Hollywood couldn't have scripted a better potential comeback story for the movie theater industry.
Warner Bros. is poised to release the latest feature from acclaimed director Christopher Nolan, one of the biggest advocates for the big-screen experience, on July 17. If his science fiction thriller, "Tenet," premieres as planned, it will be the first big-budget film to debut in wide theatrical release since U.S. multiplexes were shuttered in mid-March.
A successful launch for the movie would herald a triumphant return for beleaguered cinemas after months of closures that have threatened to bankrupt exhibitors. For Nolan, to be the filmmaker who kick-starts the business hobbled by the coronavirus would be almost too fitting.
However, that may not be possible.
Because of public health policies meant to slow the spread of the coronavirus, theater owners remain uncertain when they will be able to fully open across the nation at a level that can support a major studio movie.
That's especially true in key markets such as Los Angeles, San Francisco and New York, which are essential for a film of "Tenet's" size to become profitable. Those cities are home to the cinephiles who would normally flock to a new film from the director of "Dunkirk," "Interstellar," "Inception" and "The Dark Knight." It's also unclear when moviegoers will be willing to go back to theaters amid lingering fears of new outbreaks.
The situation is tricky for Burbank-based Warner Bros., which has much riding on "Tenet." The film is estimated to have cost about $190 million to produce, not including marketing. The AT&T Inc.-owned studio has already launched its marketing campaign, with TV commercials that aired Wednesday and a trailer that launched Thursday night on the popular online video game Fortnite. The new trailer did not specify a release date.
"Even though it's not a Marvel or 'Star Wars' movie, it's still contingent on having a worldwide footprint," said Shawn Robbins, an analyst at BoxOffice.com. "The sheer risk is in the daily news changing. That puts the studio in a really difficult situation."
Spokespeople for Warner Bros. and Nolan declined to comment for this story.
The release of "Tenet" illustrates a central conundrum the entertainment industry faces as executives, theater owners and workers hope to get back in business.