“We’re especially thrilled, in this complex and rapidly changing environment, to be bringing Christopher Nolan’s ‘Tenet,’ a global tentpole of jaw-dropping size, scope and scale, to theaters around the world on July 31,” Toby Emmerich, chairman of Warner Bros. Pictures Group, said in a statement to Variety. “It’s been longer than any of us could’ve imagined since we’ve seen a movie on the big screen, and to acknowledge Chris’ fans as we count down to ‘Tenet’’s opening day, we are also excited to offer his masterpiece ‘Inception’ in theaters for its 10th anniversary on July 17.”
The Wonder Woman 1984 delay was announced nonchalantly in a tweet:
Wonder Woman 1984 is coming to your favorite theater this fall. See it October 2, 2020. ✨ #WW84 pic.twitter.com/OvW9AAa7gT
— Wonder Woman (@WonderWomanFilm) June 12, 2020
Nolan’s Tenet wasn’t just one of Warner Bros.’ biggest movies of the year; it had become a sort of litmus test as to whether Hollywood studios could start releasing their films after facing a series of delays brought on by the pandemic. Disney CEO Bob Chapek cited Tenet (referring to it as a “competitor’s film”) as the movie they were planning to watch, as it opened a week before the company’s previously delayed, massive live-action remake of Mulan. ViacomCBS CEO Bob Bakish added in his company’s earnings call that he was hopeful by the time SpongeBob SquarePants was set to open in early August, movie theaters would be back in full swing.
It’s uncertain what will happen to Mulan, SpongeBob SquarePants, and other movies pushed into the summer from earlier this year. Some studios, like Universal, have pushed their blockbuster films from this year into next. F9, the ninth installment in the Fast and Furious franchise, will now open in April 2021.
Although theaters have started to reopen in states and countries that have lifted heavy public gathering restrictions, it’s consumer behavior that studios can’t plan for in advance. Even if theaters are open, will people want to go, regardless of whether proper social distancing tools (like six feet between people in theaters and limited capacities) are in place? That’s what companies like Disney, Warner Bros., Paramount, and Universal are trying to predict.
Movies like Tenet, Mulan, and F9 could easily gross close to, if not surpass, $1 billion at the box office. Releasing them too early could result in a loss for the companies. Not releasing the films, however, will likely lead to further financial hits as 2020 continues without any form of profit from unreleased films.
Some films, like Scoob, Artemis Fowl, and Trolls World Tour have bypassed theatrical releases entirely, going straight to premium video on demand and streaming services, but those aren’t major tentpole features. Tenet was supposed to be the experiment that everyone else would learn from, but now, its delay just leads to more uncertainty.