Studios are taking a wait-and-see approach when it comes to releasing their films in theaters — with an emphasis on waiting.
AT&T Inc.'s Warner Bros. has once again delayed the release of "Tenet," a big-budget science fiction film from director Christopher Nolan. Originally scheduled to open in mid-July, the studio first pushed back the release to July 31 and has now made the decision to release the picture Aug. 12. "Tenet" is estimated to have cost $200 million to produce, making it Nolan's most expensive original production to date.
Each of AMC Entertainment Holdings Inc., Cinemark Holdings Inc. and Cineworld Group PLC's Regal Cinemas have announced plans to reopen theaters in July, with plans to have substantially all U.S. locations open by the July 24 debut of The Walt Disney Co.'s live-action reboot of "Mulan." But with cases of the COVID-19 virus climbing in certain states, local and state governments are delaying plans to allow theaters to reopen, forcing studios and box office analysts alike to adjust their expectations.
|Warner Bros. once again delayed the release of its film "Tenet," which is estimated to have cost $200 million.
Source: Warner Bros.
"It's such a moving target, you just don't know," Kagan analyst Wade Holden said of box office forecasting in an interview. Kagan is a media research group within S&P Global Market Intelligence.
Holden recently forecast $5.2 billion in total box office receipts for the year, down 53% from 2019, based on the assumption that theaters will reopen as planned and films will debut as scheduled. After "Mulan," "Tenet" had been the next major release set to open.
"I'm pretty sure my projections are going to be out of date in a month. I hope not. I hope things run smoothly," Holden said.
The delay of "Tenet" comes after Los Angeles County in mid-June launched its third phase of recovery, which included things like tattoo parlors, massage studios, bars and breweries. Theaters were originally intended to be part of phase 3, but the county left cinemas off the list without explanation. In New York, the state government announced on June 24 that some districts were eligible to launch phase 4 of reopening the following Friday. Movie theaters were again excluded.
If theaters do reopen as soon as July, operators "might be in for a shock to the system that will no doubt have a ripple effect for a very long time," Jeff Bock, senior box office analyst at research firm Exhibitor Relations Co., said in an interview.
Bock believes that the film slate is of little concern. Rather, consumer appetite for being in close quarters indoors amid a life-threatening pandemic will be the deciding factor for the success of cinema and debut releases like "Tenet."
While the appetite for pandemic-era moviegoing is yet to be seen, audiences certainly have an appetite for Nolan's films. Nolan's Batman franchise includes "The Dark Knight" and "The Dark Knight Rises," which carried negative costs of $189.8 million and $256.9 million, respectively. Those two titles remain the director's most profitable titles, netting $871.3 million and $641.6 million, according to Kagan.
As for original science fiction properties like "Tenet," Nolan's "Inception" and "Interstellar" each cost more than $160 million to produce, and landed as the director's third and fourth most profitable films. "Inception" saw net profits of $512.5 million and "Interstellar" landed on $316.6 million.
While the risk is palpable for "Tenet," the reward if it becomes a successful release are downright historic, Shawn Robbins, chief analyst at BoxOffice Pro, said in an interview.
"Should the film itself receive strong word of mouth, especially as an original film, which audiences crave just as much as major franchises, the moment in history tying Tenet's release to the long-term recovery of theatrical business post-pandemic would be monumental," Robbins said.