Warner Bros. is reaching out to international exhibitors about a possible late August launch for Christopher Nolan’s “Tenet.” If it takes place, it would mean that the twisty spy thriller, which was expected to be among the highest-grossing summer releases, will have some sort of popcorn season debut.
Exhibitors in the U.K., France and Spain have been told by the studio to plan for an Aug. 26-28 launch. The dates are not confirmed, though sources indicate that talks are positive. It’s understood the studio is also aiming to release the film early in Asia, with exhibitors in the region expecting to receive a new date in the next few days. It’s worth noting, however, that given the fast-changing nature of the global health crisis, these plans could change if the situation worsens and more hotspots emerge.
One exhibitor contacted by the studio, who asked to remain anonymous, told Variety that the tipping point in favor of an international release ahead of a U.S. bow ultimately comes down to the reopening of China cinemas this past week. The strong Asian B.O. performance for “Train to Busan” sequel “Peninsula,” which made a sensational debut with $20.8 million across four markets, is believed to have buoyed studio bosses.
Warner Bros.’ plans for an early release in Europe, and particularly Spain — which could see a second wave of COVID-19 — could follow the rationale taken by Sony Pictures Releasing in moving up the local release of Santiago Segura’s family comedy “Father There is Only One 2,” the country’s biggest potential blockbuster for 2020, from Aug. 7 to July 29.
The understanding is that an earlier release allows the sequel a clearer run at the box office in case more theaters in Spain shutter.
Warner Bros. officially removed “Tenet” from its release calendar on Monday, but promised to share a new 2020 release date “imminently.” The delay, which marked the third postponement for the pic, was a major blow to international exhibitors, who have been basing their recovery business models around the release of U.S. tentpoles.
“Tenet” was originally scheduled to debut on July 17, but was pushed back to July 31 and then Aug. 12. Its most recent delay followed renewed spikes of COVID-19 cases in major U.S. markets such as Florida and Texas. Disney on Thursday followed suite in undating “Mulan” from its recent Aug. 21 perch, marking the film’s fourth delay.
When it pushed back the release of “Tenet” on Monday, Warner Bros. hinted that it might upend the traditional playbook of having a domestic release occur roughly at the same time as an overseas launch. “We are not treating ‘Tenet’ like a traditional global day-and-date release, and our upcoming marketing and distribution plans will reflect that,” Warner Bros. Chairman Toby Emmerich said in a statement.
There are concerns, however, that for a film like “Tenet,” which relies on keeping its secrets close to the chest, a foreign debut could result in piracy, potentially spoiling some of the films surprises.
The studio’s game of musical chairs for “Tenet” has been frustrating for international exhibitors who, though sympathetic to the dire situation in some U.S. states, are in desperate need of new product to sustain their venues.
“If the exhibition community doesn’t have any new movies in the next few months, there will not be an exhibition community. For most, if not all big studio movies, between 70%-80% of all box office is offshore, and it feels like that’s been forgotten,” one senior exhibitor source told Variety earlier this week, just ahead of “Tenet’s” third delay.
Jocelyn Bouyssy, managing director of CGR Cinemas, France’s second biggest multiplex chain, said at the time that it would be a “catastrophe” if both “Tenet” and “Mulan” are further delayed — two scenarios that came to pass in the span of four days.
“We’ve been sticking to it against [all odds] because we don’t want people to forget about us, but we don’t know how long we can hold up like this,” he said.
Warner Bros. declined to comment for this story.
Elsa Keslassy and John Hopewell contributed to this report.