‘Tenet’ Was Never Going to Save the World’s Movie Theaters From a Pandemic

America is holding the global movie theater industry hostage with its poor response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Tenet Box Office Regal Cineworld Closing
Warner Bros.’ Tenet has not staved off the looming disaster for movie theaters. Melinda Sue Gordon/Warner Bros.

The odyssey surrounding Christopher Nolan’s Tenet and the blockbuster’s hard fought journey to the screen has been well and truly covered throughout this pandemic. But after a month in theaters, it’s obvious that the big budget spectacle has failed to save cinemas as originally intended. Global exhibitor Cineworld, which owns Regal Cinemas in the United States, has announced that it is suspending operations in its U.S. and U.K. locations beginning on Thursday following the delay of No Time to Die. The closures will reportedly affect 45,000 employees. Rival chains such as AMC (AMC) saw their stock plunge more than 10% after the news and analysts struggle to see how the company survives more than six months under the current circumstances.

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Nolan is obsessively committed to the health and longevity of the theatrical experience, which is admirable in most situations. But public health and safety concerns were always going to be the most important factors in our collective return to cinemas. Now, as blockbusters continue to flee into 2021, the global theatrical market is paying the price. As the coronavirus continues to wreak havoc here at home, the worldwide movie industry is being held hostage. Experts have blamed the American government’s failure to manage the pandemic.

“If the U.S. government would have taken this seriously when the shutdown began, and mapped out a comprehensive plan of action, we’d all be sitting in our favorite theaters right now, watching Hollywood blockbusters in their normal habitat,” Jeff Bock, senior analyst at Exhibitor Relations, said back in August.

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Tenet has earned more than $260 million in international markets, which isn’t half bad given the circumstances. In China, nearly all of the Middle Kingdom’s 70,000 screens are operational and the region is coming off a boffo weekend in which two separate films each earned at least $135 million. In other words, America is woefully behind the rest of the world in our containment of the coronavirus and our ability to safely return to everyday business. Since studios recoup most of their profits from domestic ticket sales, Hollywood is reluctant to deliver its brightest franchise plays even if overseas markets are on the mend.

Tenet has earned a dreadful $45 million in the U.S. over the last month as moviegoers have been reluctant to make their way back into movie theaters. While key moviegoing cities such as New York and Los Angeles remain closed, 80% of U.S. theaters have been open for Tenet‘s run. Film studios aren’t in the business of releasing $200 million blockbusters that fail to generate $50 million in domestic ticket sales. Patience is a virtue, and we can’t make our final judgment just one month into release. But with a second wave of new COVID cases expected, the outlook isn’t great. Pixar’s Soul is still currently slated to drop in theaters in November, but with 500 Regal locations now closing its doors, will Disney really hold steady to that date?

In a statement released on Monday, Cineworld said it could not provide customers “with the breadth of strong commercial films necessary for them to consider coming back to theaters against the backdrop of Covid-19.” Tenet was meant to usher in cinema’s triumphant recovery. Instead, countless other films such as Marvel’s Black Widow, Disney’s Mulan and Universal’s No Time to Die fled after its muted financial reception. Christopher Nolan is a blockbuster draw, a universe unto himself. If fans aren’t willing to show up for his original tentpoles, than there is more going on than just interest in a single movie. Our lackadaisical nationwide response to the pandemic is more to blame than any disappointment on the part of the self-styled savior of cinema.

‘Tenet’ Was Never Going to Save the World’s Movie Theaters From a Pandemic