After the global lockdown dealt a deathblow to the theater industry, Christopher Nolan's time-bending thriller Tenet was long touted as the magic cure for the industry's ailments due to low attendance. Unfortunately, the film's box-office earnings were not enough to provide cinema halls that much-needed financial boost. In an interview with the LA Times, Nolan explained his take on Tenet's financial performance.
"Warner Bros. released Tenet, and I'm thrilled that it has made almost $350 million. 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-[lockdown] expectations and will start using that as an excuse to make exhibition take all the losses from the [global emergency] instead of getting in the game and adapting - or rebuilding our business, in other words."
So it seems Christopher Nolan was prepared for Tenet to make less money at the box office than his previous movies based on the unique challenges 2020 has thrown up against the operation of cinema halls. His worries about studios learning the wrong lessons from Tenet's reduced performance are also quite valid.
As the filmmaker points out, the other studios are looking at the losses suffered by Warner Bros. when they released Tenet, and using that example as a reason to postpone the release of their own movies in theaters or go for an entirely video-on-demand streaming release strategy.
In the past also, Nolan has asked studios to shoulder some of the financial burden currently facing cinemas, a call that seems to have mostly fallen on deaf ears. There is a general consensus that the big screen experience is a dying industry. For his part, Nolan would like to see the conversation pivot from such a pessimistic outlook to asking how Hollywood can adapt to the new normal.
"If you're talking about the acceleration of existing trends[with regards to cinema halls], that's something I started reading right at the beginning... 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?"
Only time will tell if the entertainment industry heeds Nolan's call, and rallies behind movie theaters. For now, the filmmaker appears to be at peace with the role that Tenet has played at the global box office, and fairly confident that 2020 will not be the year that spells the death of cinemas.
Written and directed by Christopher Nolan, Tenet features John David Washington, Robert Pattinson, Elizabeth Debicki, Kenneth Branagh, Dimple Kapadia, Martin Donovan, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Himesh Patel, Clémence Poésy, Denzil Smith, and Michael Caine. The film tells the adventures of a band of time-inverting secret agents tasked with preventing armageddon. Tenet is now playing in theaters overseas and in select U.S. cities. This story comes to us from L.A. Times.