Christopher Nolan‘s anticipated new sci-fi action movie Tenet has been the linchpin in figuring out when movie theater chains across the United States will reopen. Whenever Warner Bros. Pictures has moved back Tenet from a previously set release date, movie theaters have pushed back their dates for reopening and other new theatrical releases have shuffled their dates too. The big hold-up has been the uncertainty of when Los Angeles and New York theaters would reopen since those are the two largest markets for movies in the country. But there’s a chance Tenet could first open in the rest of the country, and NY and LA would have to wait.
As of now, Tenet has a tentative (or Tenet-tive) release date in select cities on September 2, 2020, arriving in theaters a couple days before Labor Day weekend. The fact that this release date is for select cities would seem to indicate that Warner Bros. knows that this movie isn’t going to be playing everywhere on opening weekend, and for the first time ever, that might preclude New York and Los Angeles. But that doesn’t mean the movie wouldn’t still open across most of the rest of the country.
IndieWire did some serious homework and “compiled an exhaustive list of the theater-opening rules now in effect.” This includes research already completed by the National Association of Theater Owners as well as other verification methods, such as box office tracking for the indoor movie theaters that are currently open in more than 40 states. All of this allowed them to determine how many theaters could be open by Labor Day weekend.
Based on the data available, the only states that are facing the possibility of movie theaters not being on Labor Day weekend are Arizona, California, New Jersey, and New York. All accept Arizona don’t have a set date for reopening. However, they also note that several larger metropolitan areas such as Seattle and Detroit don’t yet have approval for movie theaters to reopen, though theaters in the rest of Washington and Michigan don’t have the same restrictions. But with all this information, they’ve figured out that even if New York and California aren’t reopening theaters in time for Tenet, over 80% of the US population would still have the ability to see Tenet if they were so inclined.
Of course, it should be noted that the entire moviegoing population probably isn’t ready to return to movie theaters. Even if theaters are reopening by late August and that many locations are playing Tenet on Labor Day, not everyone is inclined to sit in a room with a bunch of strangers for over two hours, even with social distancing and mask rules in place. Considering the reduced audience size and the lack of two major markets, Warner Bros. Pictures may still not see a Tenet release in September as a lucrative decision, and they could push everything back all over again.
The fact that the studio is opening the movie overseas first, where the presence of COVID-19 has been steadily declining, means they’re willing to make certain concessions in order to get the movie out there and bring some life back to the box office. But whether it’s worth the financial risk or not is up to the studio’s number-crunchers to determine. After all, there was a time when major studio movies played in movie theaters for months on end, and there wasn’t so much pressure put on a movie’s opening weekend. E.T. The Extra Terrestrial was in theaters for an entire year, Star Wars played for 44 weeks, and Back to the Future was playing for 37 weeks. Perhaps Tenet could just sit in theaters for a longer time in order to allow Warner Bros. to make their money back.
Honestly, many are still of the mind that Warner Bros. would be better off waiting even longer to release Tenet in the United States. Can we really trust movie theaters to be safe enough to not make this worse? It’s not that theaters won’t be taking the necessary precautions to prevent the spread, but it’s many customers who can’t be trusted. COVID-19 cases have still been surging in several states. Many states and cities are debating whether or not it’s safe for students and teachers to return to school in August and September, something much more important than movie theaters reopening. Shouldn’t that make the possibility of reopening movie theaters in that same window even less likely? At this point, it’s all just a waiting game, and it would be safer and smarter just to keep playing that game a little longer.
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