Christopher Nolan Defends Tenet's Theatrical Performance

John David Washington and Robert Pattinson in Tenet
(Image credit: (Warner Bros))

With just two months left in 2020, Bad Boys for Life is the highest grossing studio release this year. For context, the buddy cop movie starring Will Smith came out in the second week of January and made $426 million. In any other year, sure, Bad Boys For Life would be a success, but it wouldn't even crack making the top ten highest-grossing films of a given year. The results are the product of theater closures for the better part of the year, but Christopher Nolan’s Tenet did give the box office a try despite the circumstances.

As it stands, Tenet is just about the only major blockbuster to come out following the COVID-19 pandemic. After a number of summer delays, the time-bending flick started its domestic run over Labor Day weekend after an international head start. Last month, Tenet gave up its No. 1 spot and has now made $347 million against a $200 million budget. Here’s how writer/director Christopher Nolan sees its box office performance:

Warner Bros. released Tenet, and I’m thrilled that it has made almost $350 million. But I am worried that the studios are drawing the wrong conclusions from our release — that rather than looking at where the film has worked well and how that can provide them with much needed revenue, they’re looking at where it hasn’t lived up to pre-COVID expectations and will start using that as an excuse to make exhibition take all the losses from the pandemic instead of getting in the game and adapting — or rebuilding our business, in other words. Long term, moviegoing is a part of life, like restaurants and everything else. But right now, everybody has to adapt to a new reality.

Tenet was a guinea pig it seems studios have looked down upon and then continued to shuffle its calendars. Following its release in theaters, we expected more big-budget films like Black Widow and No Time To Die to hold ground with their new fall releases. But following Tenet’s performance, these films have been moved down to next summer. As Christopner Nolan told The Los Angeles Times, he doesn’t believe this has been fair to theaters.

John Stankey, CEO of Warner Bros' parent company AT&T, made a comment last month saying that the studio did not walk away from its decision to release Tenet in celebration of its numbers. The movie certainly performed well under expectations considering a film of its size is meant to flirt with a billion in box office earnings. Tenet’s “low performance” seems to have led to more studios going for streaming options, such as Pixar’s Soul now going straight to Disney+ this Christmas.

Christopher Nolan makes a solid point here. He shares his continued support for theaters, which are struggling to stay afloat as is and are being stretched thin further by the continued delays from studios. The writer/director of Interstellar and Inception compared theaters to restaurants, which have found ways to stay in business and adhere to public health guidelines. Except in the case of theaters, the lack of movies is like a restaurant operating with just a couple items on their menu.

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Sarah El-Mahmoud
Staff Writer

Sarah El-Mahmoud has been with CinemaBlend since 2018 after graduating from Cal State Fullerton with a degree in Journalism. In college, she was the Managing Editor of the award-winning college paper, The Daily Titan, where she specialized in writing/editing long-form features, profiles and arts & entertainment coverage, including her first run-in with movie reporting, with a phone interview with Guillermo del Toro for Best Picture winner, The Shape of Water. Now she's into covering YA television and movies, and plenty of horror. Word webslinger. All her writing should be read in Sarah Connor’s Terminator 2 voice over.