Christopher Nolan’s Tenet Falls Back Again

The 17th of July was both a line in the sand and a glimmer of hope. That’s the date moviegoers, theater owners, and Hollywood studios were watching to see if Christopher Nolan and Warner Bros. would actually release his new film, the time-bending saga Tenet, as planned.

Nolan always prefers to release his movies on the third weekend of July, which is prime real estate for blockbusters. He held fast to its scheduled release long after rival movies abandoned summer 2020 as the coronavirus pandemic shuttered theaters around the world.

Two weeks ago, Warner Bros. decided Tenet could not open as planned, moving it back two weeks to July 31. Tonight, the studio moved it again, pushing it to Aug. 12—a Wednesday. If it moves back any further, it will likely drop out of the summer window altogether.

“Warner Bros. is committed to bringing Tenet to audiences in theaters, on the big screen, when exhibitors are ready and public health officials say it’s time,” the studio said in a statement. “In this moment what we need to be is flexible, and we are not treating this as a traditional movie release. We are choosing to open the movie mid-week to allow audiences to discover the film in their own time, and we plan to play longer, over an extended play period far beyond the norm, to develop a very different yet successful release strategy.”

The July 17 debut of Tenet was considered a benchmark even as the coronavirus spread. For a time, it was far away enough that “maybe” seemed possible. Maybe there would be a successful medical treatment by then. Maybe the stay-at-home restrictions would be lifted. Maybe life would return to some sense of normalcy.

The director of Dunkirk, Inception and the Dark Knight trilogy penned an op-ed in The Washington Post at the start of the quarantine that served as a St. Crispin’s Day Speech for the survival of cinemas and the value of shared storytelling experiences. “When this crisis passes, the need for collective human engagement, the need to live and love and laugh and cry together, will be more powerful than ever,” Nolan wrote.

But Nolan never advocated for going to the movies at all costs. Given the steady spread of COVID-19 and the enduring threat to those who gather in larger groups, the filmmaker and executives at Warner Bros. had to determine whether the risk of theaters still being dark in July was too great to move forward with a costly promotional campaign that might run smack into locked multiplex doors.

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