Is Christopher Nolan's Tenet Failure at US a Bad Omen for Cinema?

It's no secret Christopher Nolan's Tenet endured its harshest test as a blockbuster theatrical-exclusive on the front line. There are harsh truths to accept that the September 6th release of the film is marred with difficulty as cinemas at the local and national levels have been slow to recover to anything resembling normal during the pandemic. According to the aggregate site Rotten Tomatoes, the film's had favorable reviews with audiences and critics alike. While it's not Nolan's best work, it served as a litmus test for not only Warner Bros, but other major studios looking to release their own blockbusters.

New Extra Long Tenet Behind-The-Scene Featurette
Christopher Nolan on the set of Tenet. Image courtesy of Warner Bros

Is Tenet's Release an Anomaly or Sign of Things to Come?

Despite Tenet not releasing to its full potential, it's creeping its way back to at least breaking even if it's slow, and the North American market isn't helping nearly as well as it should. As of September 20th, the film surpassed the $200 million mark but projected to need $450-500 million to break even, according to the Observer. While Tenet's performance hasn't pushed MGM's No Time to Die back any further than its initial postponed November release, WB opted to push Wonder Woman 1984 to Christmas, leaving Dune compromised in its current December 18th date.

As long as progress remains sluggish on the pandemic front and various intuitions attempting to micromanage the pandemic from studios to educators with mixed results, it's clear American audiences aren't in a hurry to go back to the cinema. Some films like Bill & Ted Face the Music are opting for simultaneous theatrical and home releases finding their own success. At the same time, other filmmakers remain conflicted about whether staying exclusive to cinemas does more harm than good. Maybe audiences need to be accommodated more than ever before, and we simply need to change the metrics on how "success" a film is upon its release. Is the future of film still at the cinema? Will the hybrid home and theatre simultaneous release model sustain, or do companies like AMC and Regal need to consider shuttering operations for good?

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About Tom Chang

I'm a follower of pop culture from gaming, comics, sci-fi, fantasy, film, and TV for over 30 years. I grew up reading magazines like Starlog, Mad, and Fangora. As a professional writer for over 10 years, Star Wars was the first sci-fi franchise I fell in love with. I'm a nerd-of-all-trades.
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