If movie theaters are banking on Christopher Nolan’s “Tenet” to ride to their rescue, they may have to wait a lot longer for help.
That’s the takeaway from a new note by Eric Handler, a leading exhibition industry analyst with MKM Partners, who predicts that there’s a “low likelihood” that “Tenet” will open on Aug. 12 as planned because of the rising number of COVID-19 cases in such major markets as Texas, Florida, and California.
Handler also cites the “slowed re-opening of the New York City economy” as another reason Nolan’s latest epic will likely be delayed again (it has already moved twice). Movie theaters in the Big Apple remain closed and there’s been no clear indication of when they might be allowed to welcome audiences again.
He said that it would be shocking if cinemas can reopen before “September, at the earliest.” That’s devastating news for the country’s theaters, which have been forced to endure months without revenues since shutting their doors in March. Some have opened their doors again in recent weeks, while showing older films such as the “Harry Potter” and “Indiana Jones” franchises.
Insiders predict that a decision on pushing back the release of “Tenet” and Disney’s “Mulan,” which is also slated to debut in August, could take place in the coming days. There’s widespread pessimism in the industry about any sort of grand revival of domestic moviegoing given that coronavirus cases in the U.S. have been surging, shattering previous benchmarks. Theater chains such as AMC and Regal have unveiled new safety measures, such as additional cleanings and enforced social distancing in their venues, but they have also been dealt a setback because health experts believe that indoor forms of entertainment such as bars and restaurants have contributed to the spread.
Many of these chains are burdened with heavy debt loads, something that Handler alludes to in his note. AMC recently renegotiated its debt in an effort to improve its balance sheet.
“Focus should return to liquidity until there is a broad re-opening,” writes Handler. “The near-term outlook for exhibition related stocks remains extremely clouded given the uncertainty about when theatres will be able to re-open with new Hollywood content.” Handler also lowered his forecast for box office revenues for 2020, predicting a 70% slide, worse than his previous prediction of a decrease of between 55% to 60%.
“For the back half of the year we project third-quarter and fourth-quarter box office revenue could fall 90 percent and 50 percent, respectively, down from our previous forecast calling for a decline of 65 percent and 29 percent,” Handler wrote.