The theatrical movie business is in a tailspin. That's not exactly news, nor is it surprising considering that right now, even in places where people are allowed to gather in public, it's still not recommended, and many are simply choosing to avoid the situation. Theaters have tried to do what they can under the circumstances, and some movie studios have done the same. While many movies have moved to a Premium VOD option, a few have released exclusively in theaters, the biggest among them being Christopher Nolan's Tenet. It...did not go very well.
There was a hope that after such a long movie drought, there would be pent up demand and thus people would return to theaters to see a movie, especially a movie from Christopher Nolan, a filmmaker who embraces the theatrical experience perhaps more than any other working today. Unfortunately, the box office numbers that came back showed that that wasn't really the case. In a recent earnings call (via Deadline) from Warner Bros. parent company AT&T, CEO John Stankey admits that the Tenet experiment didn't really work out the way the company was hoping.
I can’t tell you that we walked away from the Tenet experience saying it was a home run.
That's not to say that Stankey feels releasing Tenet was a mistake. He made it clear in the call that he was glad it had happened and that doing helped them learn some things about how to move forward. But as he says, the movie certainly wasn't the hit they were going for.
Tenet has grossed about $334 million at the global box office, which is a potentially healthy number, depending on what the film's budget actually was. However, nearly all of that came from overseas, as the movie has only just barely broken the $50 million mark domestically. That's a fraction of what the film would have likely done had U.S. theaters been in full operation. When Tenet opened all theaters in California and New York were closed. Today, some theaters in those states are open, while others are not.
Following Tenet's lackluster success, only smaller movies have taken the risk of opening in theaters. At this point, no tent pole films are set to open theatrically before Christmas, and even those are now looking questionable. John Stankey says Warner Bros. is now considering multiple different ideas for how to move forward with distribution from here, though what those ideas are was not specified.
And Warner Bros is going to be one of those studios who will need to come up with a new plan this year. One of the big releases still officially on the theatrical slate for 2020 is Wonder Woman 1984 which, after being originally set for June, has now been pushed back to Christmas. Whether we will actually see the movie hit theaters then, see another delay, or possibly an HBO MAX release, we'll have to wait and see.