When it comes to Tenet’s release date, Hollywood needs to think internationally

The Christopher Nolan blockbuster has suffered another delay - but should the rest of the world have to wait for US cinemas to reopen?

John David Washington in Tenet

Were current circumstances not so bleak, you’d be forgiven for thinking the repeated (at this point almost weekly) delays to Christopher Nolan’s upcoming film Tenet were simply part of a bravely unorthodox PR campaign.

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Like all of the uncompromising auteur’s movies, and perhaps even more so than usual, Tenet is a film shrouded in mystery and intrigue, whose very nature relies on a certain level of secrecy. And the constant speculation regarding when audiences might actually be able to see it only seems to have added to this enigmatic status, as Nolan fans frantically attempt to decipher what the apparently “mind-boggling” new film is all about.

But, of course, it’s quite clear that in this instance these delays, and all the discussion they have provoked, are far from deliberate – rather they are symptomatic of the major uncertainty that currently dominates the global cinema industry.

Had things been normal, the psychological thriller would have been released this past week, right in the middle of a  summer blockbuster season that never was. And even as recently as a few weeks ago there was a degree of optimism about the release – with hopes still high for an August premiere, especially as cinemas in several countries, including the UK, were beginning to reopen. But gradually that buoyancy seems to have all but subsided, with reports suggesting the film has now been delayed indefinitely – due largely to the pessimistic outlook on when US cinemas might reopen.

Tenet is far from the only big budget film to suffer this fate: upcoming Bond flick No Time to Die is another high profile casualty, with rumours circulating that 007’s next outing now won’t be screened until mid 2021. Meanwhile Disney analyst Doug Creutz was quoted in The Hollywood Reporter last week as saying he expects “no film releases in fiscal year 2020” and only a “modest slate” in 2021.

This all makes for rather grim reading for cinemagoers – especially those who had found some solace in the recent reopening in this country – with the promise of big tentpole releases seemingly still some way off. But the good news is that a glimmer of hope has emerged, at least for those film fans living outside the worst hit states in the US (or other countries still struggling to control the pandemic). Variety and The Hollywood Reporter have both suggested that a phased release for Tenet is now being considered – allowing it to be screened first in areas where easing has been possible prior to a delayed opening in areas where closed cinemas still abound.

Now, until recently it was almost unthinkable that a Hollywood studio would release a film as highly anticipated as this in such a fashion, with the traditional ‘day-and-date’ mode of release ruling the roost.  But with the huge moviegoing populations of California and New York unlikely to return to the silver screen any time soon it may just be a necessity to adopt this approach.

For one thing, it seems unreasonable that countries which have better dealt with the pandemic should be forced to wait indefinitely for the situation in the US to improve. And though I feel a great degree of sympathy for those living in areas where the virus continues to spread rapidly, when the future of the global cinema industry is at stake it also seems downright irresponsible to wait. 

It’s no secret that the industry, like so many others, has been severely disrupted by the pandemic – with many cinemas around the world losing virtually all their revenue as a result of the forced closures. And so when there is a chance to provide a much needed boost to some of those cinemas through the release of a hotly anticipated blockbuster, it would seem churlish to pass that up.

Christopher Nolan directed Tenet
Tenet director Christopher Nolan
Tony Barson/FilmMagic

It’s worth noting that while California and New York remain the biggest markets for Hollywood movies, as much as two thirds of box office revenue for a film like Tenet can come from overseas territories – with parts of Europe and Asia particularly profitable – and so while an early release internationally might not be ideal in the short term, it could still be vital for the long term survival on the global box office.

There are some obvious concerns about adopting a phased release – with piracy and the possibility of spoilers high amongst them as far as studios are concerned – but films being released at different times in different regions is hardly some kind of bold new strategy. As any UK-based cinephile will know, several acclaimed (and not so acclaimed) American films land in UK cinemas months after they’ve made their debut across the Atlantic, and so would temporarily flipping that around really be so catastrophic?  

Frankly, it seems pretty essential that Hollywood thinks internationally for the good of its long term survival. An early release in parts of Asia and Europe is a huge opportunity to give a much-needed lift to several struggling chains and independent venues that might otherwise be on the brink of permanent closure.

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Surely the possibility of coming across a Tenet spoiler is a small price to pay for that.

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