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Warner Bros. delays ‘Tenet’ again as coronavirus cases surge

Warner Bros. announced late Thursday, June 25, that it is delaying the release of Christopher Nolan’s sci-fi thriller “Tenet” from July 31 until Aug. 12, a date the studio says will give it more flexibility to get the film in theaters despite uncertainty caused by a surge in coronavirus cases in certain locales.
Warner Bros. announced late Thursday, June 25, that it is delaying the release of Christopher Nolan’s sci-fi thriller “Tenet” from July 31 until Aug. 12, a date the studio says will give it more flexibility to get the film in theaters despite uncertainty caused by a surge in coronavirus cases in certain locales.Arthur Mola/Arthur Mola/Invision/AP

Warner Bros. is delaying its much-anticipated Christopher Nolan movie "Tenet" an additional two weeks to mid-August, according to a person briefed on the plans who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak about them publicly.

The studio confirmed the plans shortly after being contacted by The Washington Post.

The move deals a serious blow to Hollywood's hopes of salvaging its summer season, already badly damaged by the closure of movie theaters in response to the pandemic. The movie will now come out Wednesday Aug. 12 instead of July 31, as the studio hopes that the additional two weeks will allow the country to recover from the current surge in coronavirus cases while still offering enough time before the end of the summer.

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"Warner Bros. is committed to bringing 'Tenet' to audiences in theaters, on the big screen, when exhibitors are ready and public health officials say it's time. In this moment what we need to be is flexible, and we are not treating this as a traditional movie release," the company said in a statement.

The development comes amid a surge coronavirus cases in many areas. California, which includes some of the nation’s largest movie markets, saw the number of infections increase by more than 6,000 cases on two days this week, and hospitalizations have increased 32 percent in the past two weeks. In Texas, Gov. Greg Abbott put the state’s reopening plan on pause Thursday amid a new wave of cases. The move suggests Warner Bros. hasn’t entirely given up on summer, though faith is fading fast.

"Tenet" has long shouldered the industry's hopes of bringing consumers back to movie theaters after months of business closings. The trailers for the mysterious action-thriller have generated much attention online, and director Nolan's last five films, dating back to "The Dark Knight" in 2008, have each made at least half a billion dollars worldwide.

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“Tenet,” which stars John David Washington, Robert Pattinson, and several other big names, had been scheduled for release July 17, with Warner Bros. maintaining that date even as many other films were postponed until fall. But two weeks ago, the studio pushed the film to July 31. With the move, the studio has once more delayed the movie as it drew within five weeks of opening. A studio’s intensive marketing campaign often launches about a month ahead of a film’s release.

During normal times, a studio almost never puts out its biggest franchises beyond the first weekend of August, after which much of the potential audience is either preparing to head back to school or traveling on an end-of-summer vacation.

But Hollywood hopes that consumers will be willing to extend their summer this year as state reopenings move slowly and many destinations remain shut down; a number of high-profile releases, such as "A Quiet Place Part II," are planned for early September, typically a studio dead spot.

Warner Bros. said its plans for "Tenet" include that as a goal. "We plan to play longer, over an extended play period far beyond the norm, to develop a very different yet successful release strategy," its statement said.

In theory, Warner Bros. can also keep postponing the movie in two-week increments; a release date has no binding legal power. But theaters are planning reopenings around the release, and the steady drip of small postponements could be more difficult for some than a clean months-long deferment.

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Yet the possibility, even remote, of a "Tenet" summer opening will be helpful to AMC and other large theater chains hopeful of keeping lenders and landlords they rely on to run their businesses at bay with reassurances that business will soon resume. AMC planned to begin opening theaters in July, with most outlets open by the end of the month. It is unclear how the "Tenet" postponement will affect those plans.

An AMC spokesman did not reply to a request for comment.

One other big studio opening this summer remains on the calendar, but that, too, is likely to change. Disney, which has not moved its "Mulan" reboot from its July 24 date since "Tenet" postponed to July 31, is now expected to go at least one week after "Tenet" in late August and could get pushed to the fall.

Disney is also unlikely to want to come out in the weeks ahead as China, where "Mulan" is expected to do significant business, has closed its theaters because of the virus.

If “Mulan” moves, it will mean one of Hollywood’s most lucrative months will go by without a major release for the first time in the modern era. Last year, July brought the release of “The Lion King,” “Spider Man: Far From Home” and “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood,” which collectively grossed more than $1.1 billion in the United States.

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