I feel like we’re playing street hockey and cars keep passing through and we’re yelling “game off” and “game on” more than we’re actually playing the game, but we might finally be at the end of the road with Tenet. A week after pulling it from the release calendar, Warner Brothers has announced a kind of hop-scotching international release plan that begins on August 26. Tenet will open in over 70 countries, playing everywhere the COVID numbers are something less than terrifying. For Canada, that means opening on August 27. 


Tenet will open in the US in time for Labor Day weekend, on September 3, which means everywhere else gets it first, but honestly, we don’t deserve it, we’re being so stupid about coronavirus. Here in America, Tenet will take whatever theaters are open, which could be as many as three thousand, or maybe even more, if we experience a significant improvement in August. Or it could be less! No one really knows what will be going on by September 3, the point is, Tenet will roll out anywhere it can. They’ll take what they can get and call it a win. As for China, there is no release date yet, as Tenet is still half an hour longer than their current “two-hour rule”, to limit the amount of time people are contained within theaters. 

It will be TERRIBLY interesting to see what the turnout is like, domestically and abroad, for a big new movie in theaters, something we haven’t seen since, basically, February. I think there are three chief scenarios of how this plays out:

  1. Tenet hop-scotches around the world, and wherever it opens, people show up. Maybe it won’t make as much money as it would normally, but it makes SOME money, and that’s enough. In these conditions, we’ll take strong turnout, regardless of box office tally, as a success.
  2. Tenet opens, but attendance is anemic. Some places show decent turnout, others don’t, and it kind of ends up a wash.
  3. Tenet opens, and no one turns up. Audiences are wary of sitting in contained rooms where safety protocols may or may not be strictly enforced, and the release is a bust.

If the first happens, expect to see as-planned roll outs for movies like Wonder Woman 1984 (October 2), Black Widow (November 6), West Side Story (December 18), and Dune (December 18). Smaller movies will pepper in between the bigger releases, and we’ll have a relatively healthy release schedule for the rest of the year. There might be some flux, as some places are forced to close while others may reopen, but overall, movies will start coming out again.

If the second thing happens, the big movies will probably move (again), heading for the hopefully greener pastures in 2021 and maybe even 2022. Smaller, cheaper movies, though, with a lower threshold to profitability, may well take their chances and do some kind of combination theatrical/digital release, playing in theaters wherever available, and offering the film on home rental platforms as a back-up (this is Bill & Ted 3’s strategy).


If the third thing happens, it’s over. 2020 will be scrapped. The big movies will all move, and any smaller movie that can talk the filmmaker into a digital/streaming release will be an at-home experience. Everything else will hold till 2021 or later. The toll this will take on theaters is potentially disastrous. A lot of theaters are going to close regardless of what happens, but if Tenet flops entirely, MOST theaters will close.

Also, if the second or third things happen, expect to see Tenet available for premium video on demand quickly. Depending on how mediocre-to-bad the theatrical showing is, it could be a matter of weeks or even days. Warners is basically throwing Tenet away to make Christopher Nolan happy (Lainey said, “Is this what the expression ‘cutting off your nose to spite your face’ means?”), but if the movie comes out and there are clear indicators people are unwilling to go see it, the studio can then say, “We tried it, buddy, and it didn’t work. Now we have to salvage what we can.” 

If the turnout is good, they’ll leave it in theaters as long as possible, hoping to tally decent box office over time, though as I have pointed out before, there is still a lot of competition remaining in 2020, and Tenet won’t really have that much time to itself (it has a month between its new release and Wonder Woman 1984, with smaller movies, including The New Mutants, coming in between). At this point, though, just getting Tenet out in 2020 is the win. I really did not think this will happen, but I am glad it is. I REALLY hope things go well for Tenet, and we have some semblance of a movie year in 2020. My attitude all year has been pessimistic, but I’ve been right about Tenet’s continual delays. I’m hoping now to be pessimistic and wrong.