‘Tenet’ to hit international theaters on August 26, some U.S. theaters over Labor Day weekend

John David Washington stars in the upcoming spy-thriller “Tenet” from director Christopher Nolan.

Warner Bros.

Warner Bros. is staggering its release of Christopher Nolan’s much anticipated spy-thriller “Tenet.”

The film, which has been delayed a number of times due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, will debut on Aug. 26 internationally before opening in select cities in the U.S. over the Labor Day weekend.

This is an unusual move for such a high-profile feature. Typically, studios look to release big blockbusters all in the same weekend to avoid spoilers or pirated copies entering the space before the film is made available to a large segment of the public.

However, the strategy will allow Warner Bros. and international theaters to ring up some ticket sales. Internationally, some countries have been able to release new local titles to some success. 

“We’re very used to focusing on releases in North America because the domestic market sets the pace for so many major films, but there is no question that the current reality of the global market dictates a necessity for international theater owners to get their hands on new content,” Shawn Robbins, chief analyst at Boxoffice.com, said.

A growing list of countries are reopening theaters as coronavirus cases have fallen. Countries ready to debut “Tenet” include Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Korea, Russia, Spain, and the U.K. The film will not yet be released in China, the second-largest film market in the world.

“That will happen domestically at some point, but if the rest of the world is ready to roll, it could make sense to attempt a major release in an effort to support exhibitors and prop up an industry that is among those hit hardest by the pandemic,” Robbins said.

Not to mention, Hollywood blockbusters often generate more than 60% of their box office revenue outside the U.S. The overseas market has become an increasingly important one for American-based studios.

Three out of Nolan’s last four films all made more money internationally than domestically. “Dunkirk” took in 64% of its total ticket sales from international markets. For “Inception,” this figure was 64.7%, and “Interstellar” saw 72.3% of its total ticket sales come from outside North America.

2012’s “The Dark Knight Rises” garnered around 58% of box office receipts from international markets, as the final Batman flick in Nolan’s trilogy was particularly well-received by American audiences. 

Of course, these numbers include China, but there is still significant money to be made in Europe and throughout the rest of Asia. 

Trouble for U.S. cinemas

Domestically, the movie theater market has been ravaged by the coronavirus pandemic. The majority of theaters have remained closed since mid-March and have been generating little to no revenue. Those that have opened during the pandemic have been forced to show library titles like “Star Wars” and “Jurassic Park.”

Since January, shares of AMC are down 46%, shares of Marcus Corp. have fallen 55% and shares of Cinemark have slipped 64%. 

AMC has had the most public difficulties with remaining shuttered, although the company recently reached a debt agreement that should help it remain solvent through 2021.

For the last two months “Tenet” and Disney’s “Mulan” were expected to kick off the summer box office and signal hope to exhibitors that some semblance of normal could come to the movie theater industry.

However, a growing number of Covid-19 cases in the U.S. forced both studios to ping-pong their release dates later on the calendar. Eventually, both unset their films altogether.

A Labor Day weekend release for “Tenet” leaves “Antebellum” as the first big Hollywood movie to enter theaters since many were shuttered back in March. The Jordan Peele-produced horror film is expected to enter theaters on Aug. 21. Of course, movie calendar dates are hardly set in stone these days. 

Following that release is “New Mutants” on Aug 28. The film has found itself repositioned on the calendar multiple times over the last few years, so this, too, could be shuffled again.

“While a staggered release strategy may carry its own challenges, the benefit of at least getting these films in front of an audience and giving theaters appealing content may outweigh any of the potential issues such as piracy, spoilers and that some countries may feel left out of the equation,” Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst at Comscore, said. 

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