Tenet director Christopher Nolan says big studios need to get in the game and adapt to “new reality”

The revered British film-maker believes major studios drew the "wrong conclusion" from Tenet box office.

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Christopher Nolan directed Tenet

The director of Tenet, Christopher Nolan, has taken a swipe at film studios’ reluctance to release blockbusters in these COVID-19 days and worries that they’re taking the wrong approach to the release of big movies.

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Tenet was one of the few epic movies to be released in 2020, as blockbuster after blockbuster was rescheduled by the studios into 2021 and beyond, in the hope that the new year will bring with it an end to the pandemic and movie-goers returning en masse to cinemas.

Tenet has so far taken almost $350 million (£270 million) worldwide but, considering its budget was $200 million plus its global marketing spend, it’s unlikely to be in the black yet.

Despite that, London director Nolan has asked if the studios aren’t being excessively cautious in postponing the release of films like No Time to Die and Black Widow.

He told the Los Angeles Times he was “thrilled” with the box office for Tenet, which was released by Warner Bros in August, very much bucking the trend of studios such as Disney.

Nolan said: “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 [cinemas] take all the losses from the pandemic instead of getting in the game and adapting — or rebuilding our business, in other words.”

According to Variety, insiders at Warner Bros are expecting to make a loss on Tenet, which was released in the US at a time when major movie-going markets such as LA and New York were still under lockdown. The movie would have made millions more if it had had access to those cities.

Far from being a failing industry, Nolan said that before the pandemic the cinema business was at its most buoyant ever, setting records for global box office takes last year. Cinemas were crucial to the success of blockbusters and Nolan seemed disappointed at the studios’ lack of support for them.

“If you’re talking about the acceleration of existing trends, that’s something I started reading right at the beginning of the pandemic,” he said. “And it ignores the reality that 2019 was the biggest year for theatrical films in history. They’d made the most money. The admissions were huge. So to me, it’s much more about: What’s the new reality we’re living in?”

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