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When movie theaters closed in March there was hope that everything might be ok again by June. By May, we weren't counting on theaters being open again before July. Currently, there are still major releases planned for August, but now even those movies are looking in doubt, especially following Warner Bros. decision to pull Christopher Nolan's Tenet from the schedule. The film has yet to be given a new release date, which might lead some to wonder if the movie might not get a theatrical release at all, but could instead debut on a streaming platform, most likely WB's own HBO Max. You can stop wondering, it's not going to happen.
The unequivocal word that, whatever else happens, Tenet will not debut on HBO Max, comes from John Stankey, the CEO of AT&T, which owns WarnerMedia. During a conference call (via Deadline) Stankey said that seeing some movies that were planned for theatrical release move to streaming platforms is certainly a possibility, but specifically, in the case of Tenet, that won't be happening. According to the CEO...
Is it going to happen with a movie like Tenet or something like Wonder Woman? I’d be very surprised if that would be the case. In fact, I can assure you with Tenet, that’s not going to be the case. The longer this goes on, there’s going to be some content on the margins that we’re going to look at and say it may be better served to be distributed in another construct or a different construct. I love that we have that option now. I love the reality that we’ve been able to build a platform where we can get leverage and capabilities out of any content we build, theatrical or otherwise.
We've already seen some of that "on the margins" content make the jump to streaming from several studios. Disney moved Artemis Fowl to Disney+ and will be doing the same thing in August with The One and Only Ivan. The Lovebirds moved from the theaters to Netflix and I Spy went to Amazon. WarnerMedia even made the same decision with Scoob!, which started as a "premium VOD" movie but is already on HBO Max.
These were all movies that, while they might have done perfectly respectable numbers at the theatrical box office, were unlikely to do "tentpole" movie numbers. Thus far, studios have held on to those movies and seem dedicated to giving them theatrical releases, even if it's going to be months before that happens.
But Tenet seems to be even a special case among tentpoles. John Stankey makes the chances of Wonder Woman 1984 going directly to HBO Max sound unlikely, but he doesn't rule it out the way he does with Tenet. We know how much stock Christopher Nolan puts in the theatrical experience and even with everything that has happened, it seems that WB is still committed to giving Tenet that theater debut.
We don't know when we'll see Tenet, but whenever we do, it will be in a theater.