‘Tenet’ Release Up in Air Again, Roiling Hollywood’s Summer

Warner Bros. is considering delaying the release of the movie “Tenet” again, according to a person familiar with the matter, setting back efforts by theater chains to save the summer blockbuster season.

A final decision hasn’t been made, but a move would delay the film’s July 31 debut and send it into August or beyond, according to the person, who asked not to be identified because the deliberations are private.

Warner Bros. and Christopher Nolan have been at odds over the timing, with the director pushing for an earlier premiere and the studio taking a more cautious approach, according to people with knowledge of the discussions. The sci-fi psychological thriller stars John David Washington, Michael Caine and Kenneth Branagh.

There’s growing speculation among theater chains that more schedule changes are looming, withWalt Disney Co.’s “Mulan,” slated for July 24, also in jeopardy. The heads of the major cinema chains, including market leaderAMC Entertainment Holdings Inc., have said they expect the release calendar to shift around in response to the pandemic, and that they’ll be more flexible than normal.

Disney previously delayed “Mulan” from March to July following the shutdown of theaters across the U.S. to combat the coronavirus outbreak. Now it’s considering pushing it back again, the Wall Street Journal reported this week,citing an unidentified person familiar with the matter. Disney and Warner Bros. didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.

The shake-up could leave Hollywood with its worst drought of summer blockbusters since “Jaws” ushered in the concept in 1975. Theater chains had been preparing for a return to relative normal next month. The companies have been reopening cinemas with new cleaning regimens and employees in masks. But without big new movies to show, the already-struggling chains will have little to entice customers.

The “Tenet” release was already pushed back this month, from July 17 to July 31. And another big Warner Bros. film, “Wonder Woman 1984” was moved to Oct. 2 from Aug. 14.

No matter how the schedule changes, studios could have a tough time recouping their investment in movies like “Mulan” and “Tenet,” both of which have budgets around $200 million. Theaters have capped ticket sales to adhere to social-distancing guidelines, and fresh outbreaks in many states will likely scare away potential customers.

While the official “Mulan” debut date remains less than a month away, Disney executives would typically start up a promotion machine, including billboards, TV ads and social media campaigns. Instead, they’ve held back as case numbers rise.

Warner Bros., part ofAT&T Inc., has made a small marketing push for “Tenet,” not the campaign you would typically see for a $200 million movie. Nolan, who wrote and directed the film, is a big proponent of the traditional movie-theater experience and wants his films seen in cinemas. His previous pictures include 2017’s “Dunkirk” and three Batman movies.

Studios are still planning to show smaller new films in theaters in July. “Unhinged,” a psychological thriller starring Russell Crowe, and romantic comedy “Broken Hearts Gallery,” are both expected to come out in coming weeks.

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