The film has released a poster in Chinese, swapping the English tagline “time runs out” for a clarion call to return to cinemas that roughly translates to “make every second count; invade the theaters.”
Chinese cinemas reopened in regions at low risk for COVID-19 on July 20, taking in $12.6 million in their opening weekend. Currently, around 44% of its cinemas are back in business, but have been required to operate at just 30% capacity to allow for social distancing, as well as reduce their total number of screenings to half their usual tally.
Additionally, guidelines for reopening released by the National Film Bureau request that cinemas not screen films that are over two hours long — which could potentially pose problems for “Tenet,” which runs at two hours and 31 minutes.
This directive was soon contradicted, however, by Chinese authorities’ subsequent approval of numerous films longer than two hours for nationwide theatrical release. These include “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” and Nolan’s own “Interstellar” — currently scheduled for a theatrical re-run starting Aug. 2 — as well as local blockbusters already in play like “Operation Red Sea.”
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Until the guideline is more formally lifted, it appears that cinemas in different regions under different levels of COVID-19 threat have been given varied amounts of leeway, or at least have been variously willing to stick their neck out and program longer films.
All eight of the “Harry Potter” films run over two hours, but they are all currently screening as part of the Shanghai International Film Festival.
Yet at least two cinemas in Beijing said Wednesday in private chats posted to social media that due to the confusion, they currently didn’t dare program approved, available titles over 120 minutes long — even the patriotic blockbuster “Wolf Warrior 2,” which runs 123 minutes.
Elsewhere in China, however, that film’s re-run has already made $1.1 million since cinemas reopened Monday.
“Tenet” had to reschedule its release numerous times due to COVID-19 before Warner Brothers this week settled on the unconventional plan of debuting it internationally before it hits North America.
It is now prepared to open in around 70 countries abroad starting on Aug. 26, including the U.K., Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Korea and Russia. It will then premiere in select U.S. cities over Labor Day weekend from Sept. 3.
China is far and away the most important foreign market for “Tenet” director Christopher Nolan’s films.
The Chinese box office for almost every film he’s made as either director or executive producer has blown away earnings from other territories by a large margin. The only exceptions are “Dunkirk” and “The Dark Knight Rises,” for which China was the second largest market globally behind the U.K., and “Batman Begins,” which hit the Middle Kingdom all the way back in 2005, when its box office was still comparatively nascent.
Of the Nolan-directed films, “Dunkirk” made $51 million in China in 2017, while “Interstellar” grossed $122 million there in 2014. The “Dark Knight Rises” grossed $52.8 million in 2012 and “Inception” $68.4 million in 2010.
Films executive produced by Nolan have also seen strong showings in the country. They include “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” with $96 million, “Justice League” with $106 million, “Transcendence” with $20 million, and “Man of Steel” with $63 million.