The biggest litmus test for cinema viability for 2020 was Warner Bros' Tenet. Despite the billions lost in cinemas due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the film still banked just under $350 million globally, even with a lackluster domestic return of $53.8 million. While promoting Tom Shone's latest book "The Nolan Variations," the director and writer spoke to the Los Angeles Times to discuss how he interprets the box office return.
"Warner Bros. released Tenet, and I'm thrilled that it has made almost $350 million," Nolan said. "But I am worried that the studios are drawing the wrong conclusions from our release — that rather than looking at where the film has worked well and how that can provide them with much-needed revenue, they're looking at where it hasn't lived up to pre-COVID expectations and will start using that as an excuse to make exhibition take all the losses from the pandemic instead of getting in the game and adapting — or rebuilding our business, in other words."
Nolan lamented the economic impact cinemas have compared to other local businesses. "Long term, moviegoing is a part of life, like restaurants and everything else. But right now, everybody has to adapt to a new reality." As the pandemic forced lockdowns at the state level, studios delayed their major films from upcoming blockbusters to other tentpole franchises. Tenet experienced multiple delays from a planned July release date later to an August and finally seeing the light of day on September 3rd. What was interpreted as a lackluster performance now forced major studios' hands again as WB further delayed their two other major 2020 releases in Dune and Wonder Woman 1984. MGM and Eon's No Time to Die was originally slated for release in spring 2020 before its updated date of Easter 2021.
Tenet stars John David Washington, Robert Pattinson, Elizabeth Debicki, Kenneth Branagh, and Michael Caine. The film is still in theatres.