Second Union

Second Union

TENET: Why Nolan’s Latest Film Could Change the Industry

Images Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures & Walt Disney Pictures (Screenshots from TENET & MULAN)

On September 3rd, 2020, Christopher Nolan’s latest film, the espionage time-bending thriller Tenet, will debut in select US theaters. This marked yet another delay for the eagerly anticipated project which was originally slated to come out on July 17th. However, unlike its previous dates, Tenet will face strong opposition from competing blockbuster fare. Disney recently announced over an earnings call with the company’s investors that the live-action remake Mulan will release in the US exclusively on the digital streaming service Disney+ alongside a premium thirty-dollar surcharge on September 4th.

What this means for Tenet’s distributor Warner Bros. Pictures is that the Nolan-directed release will have to compete for the public’s attention with the Disney flick. Not only that, but Tenet is confirmed to be an exclusively theatrical release, meaning that audiences will have an even greater incentive to stay at home in safety and watch Mulan than drive out to their local multiplex, yet another hurdle the WB marketing team must overcome. Warner Bros has a two-hundred-million-dollar production budget attached to Tenet, an ambitious gamble to say the least. However, whatever happens, this coming Labor Day weekend will not only influence the success of these two films but rather how the entire film exhibition industry moves forward post-COVID.

Images Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures (Screenshot from TENET)

In this scenario, there are two inherently feasible outcomes. The first of which is that Tenet overcomes every obstacle and manages to be a massive success at the theaters whilst Mulan disappoints on Disney+. The second of which is the opposite of its predecessor where Mulan is the one to succeed the weekend. When looking at the first potential outcome, the ramifications on the industry would be notable. Studios have always searched for ways to detach their projects from theaters for greater profit margins, so it would make sense that their streaming services – Disney+, HBO Max, etc. – would be the perfect place to do so. However, if Mulan, a juggernaut release that Disney has invested two-hundred-million-dollars into, fails to realize the potential studios see in the straight-to-streaming distribution, then theater chains around the world will likely heave a massive sigh of relief. This would ensure that the relationship between cinemas and studios will not be strained for at least a few years.

On the other hand, if Mulan surpasses Tenet on streaming, the situation could turn on its head. Now, studios have every reason to begin using the straight-to-streaming distribution more frequently. All films likely will not follow this trend, particularly blockbuster juggernauts with huge production budgets that need to be recouped. For example, do not expect to see films like The Batman or Jurassic World: Dominion to follow this trend. However, for smaller films from Disney and other studios, this distribution method would seem increasingly profitable, especially if the projects have smaller price tags in their budget. This would mean cinemas would begin losing out on smaller-scaled flicks, something that would hinder their business dramatically. Should this be the reality come the end of Labor Day weekend, expect the relationship between cinemas and studios to become even more strained. 

Disney’s MULAN..Mulan (Yifei Liu)..Photo: Film Frame..© 2019 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

In conclusion, how Tenet performs at the domestic box office this September could effectively change the industry forever. I specify the domestic box office for this reason: the international movie-going experience is slowly returning to normal. The COVID-19 pandemic presents a unique venture for studios, however, it is only feasible in the United States because of the nation’s greater spread of the virus. If Tenet can draw Americans back to the newly re-opened cinemas and earn fantastic revenue, theater chains could be safe for at least a few more years. However, if Tenet stumbles out of the gate and Disney flick Mulan nabs a victory, theaters may begin to be a thing of the past.

Related Articles