The Surprising Amount Of Money Christopher Nolan's Tenet Cost To Make

John David Washington in Tenet

In modern Hollywood, a normal filmmaker with an original idea will struggle to find any studio willing to provide a blockbuster budget. Companies typically won't cough up nine-digit numbers unless they are putting their money behind a property with an established audience, as unique projects are simply too much of a gamble.

Christopher Nolan is definitely not a "normal filmmaker," however, which is explains how his upcoming science-fiction thriller Tenet wound up being made with a reported budget over $200 million.

In writing up box office predictions for the slate of blockbusters set to be released in the next year, Variety included a slot for Tenet, and that's explainable given the detail included regarding how much money it cost to bring Christopher Nolan's latest vision to life. Based on past reports, this means that the 2020 release will go down as the director's second most expensive film, as The Dark Knight Rises was released back in 2012 after a quarter of a billion dollars was spent bringing it to life.

When you look at Christopher Nolan's past at the box office, it's understandable that Warner Bros. was willing to throw down so much cash to make Tenet. After all, this is a filmmaker who certainly can make money with a big brand name (as proven by the Dark Knight Trilogy), but in the last few years he has established his auteur style as its own brand.

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Interstellar cost a whopping $165 million to make, but it more than quadrupled that figure by the time it was done playing in theaters around the globe. Likewise, the war epic Dunkirk cost a hefty $100 million, but that didn't matter so much in the long run because it earned over $500 million in ticket sales worldwide.

Given Christopher Nolan's track record, it's totally understandable that Warner Bros. made the call to spend $205 million on Tenet (that cost being before publicity and marketing) – but that call is looking a lot less rosy nowadays given everything that's going on in the world. It's been made clear by Nolan that he wants his new movie to be the title that welcomes audiences back to theaters when it comes out in July, but what's not presently clear is exactly how comfortable people will be to go into auditoriums in a month-and-a-half's time. Cinefiles may be excited to see Nolan's new film, but they may not not excited enough to potentially risk their health and safety.

As things stand, Tenet seems like it is poised to be a kind of litmus test for Hollywood and the near-future of the theatrical experience. The best possible outcome is that it's deemed safe to go to movie theaters in mid-July and people go en-masse to see the new blockbuster, while still complying with rules and regulations in place. That would result in movie studios feeling a hell of a lot more confident about the litany of big releases that are set to hit the big screen in the second half of 2020.

The worst possible outcome is obviously a real bummer. If people aren't quite ready to go to the movies in July and Tenet fails to conjure much of an audience/bombs, all of the other Hollywood studios may panic and shut down all of their big tentpole projects until the new year. That's a lot of pressure to be thrust on to a single release.

The world is proving to be consistently unpredictable at the moment, prognosticating at this point is a risky venture. We'll just have to wait until we get closer to Tenet's release date on July 17th before we can more accurately assess the situation.

Eric Eisenberg
Assistant Managing Editor

NJ native who calls LA home and lives in a Dreamatorium. A decade-plus CinemaBlend veteran who is endlessly enthusiastic about the career he’s dreamt of since seventh grade.