Come Aug. 26, virtually all roads in the lucrative U.K. and Ireland cinema market lead to Warner Bros.’ “Tenet.” In most of the countries’ cinemas on that date, you can watch any movie — just as long as it’s “Tenet.”
At the Omnimax cinema in Limerick, Ireland, customers can choose from 19 showtimes for Christopher Nolan’s keenly awaited and thrice postponed magnum opus. Over at the Cineworld in Wolverhampton, England, audiences have a choice of 29 “Tenet” shows on Aug. 26, while the Odeon in Cardiff, Wales, offers 16 shows, and the Vue Ocean Terminal in Edinburgh, Scotland, has 19.
For European cinema giant Vue, which opened ticket sales for “Tenet” at midnight on Tuesday, the film so far accounts for 60% of tickets sold in the U.K. on Wednesday. Vue CEO Tim Richards tells Variety that those numbers are only bound to get bigger.
“You’re going to see a slow start and then it’s going to pick up very, very quickly in the week before release [as more venues open],” says Richards. Vue has 91 cinemas in the U.K. and Ireland, and all but two, which are being refurbished, are set to open in time for “Tenet.”
“Tenet’s” arrival is a welcome boon for a territory deprived of blockbuster entertainment, and which acutely felt the sting of Disney’s game-changing premium VOD play for “Mulan.” Films such as Russell Crowe thriller “Unhinged” have propped up the U.K. box office, grossing $231,871 to date, but the market has been desperate for a tentpole to lure back audiences.
“We had bought tickets for ‘Unhinged,’ but decided to skip the trip to Cineworld [at] The O2, as many restaurants on the premises weren’t open to make a day of it, and we felt it was a film we could easily wait for, and watch on our TV screen or laptop,” Ashanti Omkar, presenter on the BBC Asian Network, and Akin Aworan, her husband, told Variety.
“‘Tenet’ on the other hand, was the biggie we were waiting to watch on the Superscreen at The O2, which is one of Europe’s widest screens. And this film is one that Christopher Nolan intended to be seen on the big screen,” said Omkar and Aworan.
The key words here are Christopher Nolan, who remains a huge box office draw in his home country. His 2010 mindbender “Inception,” for example, now on its 10th anniversary release in the U.K., collected $56.5 million on its original release, while 2017’s “Dunkirk” grossed $80.8 million in the territory.
For many local fans, “Tenet” will be their first cinema trip since lockdown ended, and its director is the sole reason to return.
“His ability to place the audience in the centre of the spectacle that his worlds create means that his movies demand to be seen in a true cinematic environment,” says fan Cameron Longer, who will be watching “Tenet” at the Cineworld IMAX in Watford. “For me, only a filmmaker with the sense of grandeur and vision of Nolan would be able to convince me to get back into the cinema.”
Nolan’s draw also helps override health and safety concerns in some cases. Christina Tencheva has booked to watch “Tenet” at London’s BFI IMAX, which is operated by Odeon. The film is “probably the only one I’m willing to take a risk for, and if I’m satisfied with the cinema safety, I’ll go to others,” says Tencheva.
Others are not so sanguine. The U.K. theater industry remains shut, at least until September, due to social distancing concerns. Stage director Alex Packer, whose credits include “13” and “Ballistic,” tweeted: “Would love to see IMAX TENET. BFI ticket cost: £23.75 Congestion charge £15 Parking approx: £15 Plus not a single bit of info on ODEON website about safety precautions or distanced seating. Nothing at all. Like everything’s normal. So all in all: No. Just No. Sadly.”
Would love to see IMAX TENET.
BFI ticket cost: £23.75
Congestion charge £15
Parking approx: £15
Plus not a single bit of info on ODEON website about safety precautions or distanced seating. Nothing at all. Like everything's normal.
So all in all: No. Just No. Sadly.
— Alex Packer (@_alexpacker) August 12, 2020
Odeon does, however, list a safety statement on its BFI IMAX website that reads: “We are delighted to announce this ODEON will reopen its doors from 21st August, and you can book tickets now. We have made lots of changes to create a new safer cinema experience for you, and we look forward to welcoming you back.” Further navigation leads to the full set of safety measures.
“I’m just totally surprised and frustrated that the venues that are allowed to be opening, especially something as high and relevant and [exciting] and all of that, is feeling very, very unprepared and shoddy,” Packer told Variety.
Other fans have a different perspective about the cinema experience. Jacob Cakes, who is watching the film at the Vue in Scunthorpe, said, “The manager of my theater has noted that the correct measures have been put in place to make it as safe as possible. Limited rows [and] seats, cleaning equipment, enforcing masks to be worn, etc.”
Overall, the mood is one of unbridled excitement. “We have been looking forward to ‘Tenet’ as we are all big Nolan fans and we can’t wait to experience the thrill of watching a new film in the cinema again,” fan Chloe Fanning told Variety.
Jacob Chatwin, meanwhile, is watching “Tenet” on opening day at one of Cineworld Birmingham’s IMAX screens — a trip he’s been waiting for ever since he clocked a preview for the film ahead of “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker” last Christmas.
“There is no other director like him,” said Chatwin solemnly. “You simply have to watch his films on the big screen — where they belong.”
Manori Ravindran contributed to this report.