There’s more riding on Christopher Nolan’s latest film, the time-travel-but-it’s-not-really-time-travel sci-fi thriller Tenet, than is probably strictly fair. After all, Nolan could never have known when he was making the John David Washington-starring movie that the theatrical film industry he’s been such a loud and tireless advocate for would be in such dire straits when it was finally ready to be released—or that his film would be studios’ big hopes for luring viewers back into the theaters in the still-very-active-midst of a global pandemic. But here we are, months after the closures of the vast majority of American theaters, with Tenet’s July 17 release date standing as a rallying point for everyone hoping to get butts back in (hopefully aggressively disinfected) seats for some semblance of a summer movie season.
Except not, as it turns out, because Variety reports that Tenet has just had its release date bumped back, to July 31. That’s only two weeks, admittedly, but as far as fortnights go, one that feels fraught with multi-million-dollar significance. Warner Bros. has held the line on that July 17 date for weeks now, and a lot of assumptions about when other movies might be able to trickle back into theaters in its wake have been dependent on it. By bumping the film, the studio is making a statement that it’s no longer willing to risk a high-profile new release on a mid-July date—so why should anyone else?
Instead, the company has offered up a far-cheaper trial run, planning to put Nolan’s 2010 film Inception in whatever theaters are actually open on that date. (It’s the movie’s 10th anniversary, being the non-”Oh shit, what if nobody comes?!” rationale.) We can only assume that audience’s reaction to that little mind-flipping trial balloon will say a lot about whether the studio (and its contemporaries) will be willing to risk releasing a new film in theaters just two weeks after that date. Meanwhile, there are at least a few—much less high-profile—movies hoping to take advantage of the emptying of theaters of pretty much all competition; there’s a new Russell Crowe movie, Unhinged, sneaking into the market, and the Selena Gomez rom-com The Broken Hearts Gallery. Meanwhile, Deadline is already reporting that Wonder Woman 1984 is also being bumped back, from August 14 to October 2, by the move.