The recent announcement that Warner Bros. has indefinitely delayed the release of Tenet was an admission of sorts that the film industry has still not recovered from the after-effects of the global lockdown. One person who was particularly not happy with the decision was John Fithian, the head of the National Association of Theatre Owners. In an interview, Fithian stated that releasing movies in theaters despite most theater chains still being shut down is the only reasonable option for studios.

"Distributors should stick with their dates and release their movies because there's no guarantee that more markets will be open later this year. Until there's a vaccine that's widely available, there will not be 100% of the markets open. Because of that, films should be released in markets where it is safe and legal to release them and that's about 85% of markets in the U.S. and even more globally. They should release their movies and deal with this new normal. Studios may not make the same amount of money that they did before, but if they don't start distributing films, there's going to be a big hole in their balance sheets. This is a $42 billion-a year business. Most businesses would take 85% of that instead of zero, which will be what happens if they wait for all of the markets to open up."
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No studio sets out to make a film that costs several hundred millions of dollars to win awards. The main reason behind making expensive films is to create box office blockbusters that can bring in the maximum amount of money. Case in point, a movie like Tenet would need to make $800 million just to break even. Such numbers are not possible with the state of theater chains in present times. The way forward can be described as murky as best, but Fithian credits major studios with keeping distributors in the loop regarding distribution strategy.

"Warner Bros and Disney have been great partners on sharing data and in calling us to let us know their thinking. At the same time, we've kept them fully informed of what we are seeing. I have tremendous respect for the challenges that they are facing to their own business model. I look at this as a great partnership, but at the same time I think it's a big mistake to keep delaying these movies."

Warner Bros. has already announced that in the coming days, Tenet will see a 'non-traditional' release strategy, which some speculate could mean the film will release in international markets first before coming to US theaters. There is also the possibility that going forward, blockbuster films might opt to sell on VOD in areas where a theatrical release is not possible. Whatever steps studios decide to take with distribution going forward, it is clear that time is rapidly running out, and some hard decisions will need to be taken quickly if the business of theaters chains is going to survive the next few months. Variety.

Neeraj Chand