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The Wear Masks So Your City Can See ‘Tenet’ Challenge

The release date for Christopher Nolan’s latest film has been pushed to the end of August for most of the world. Will the U.S. get to watch a week later?
July 27, 2020
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'Tenet' is about the Lollipop Guild's efforts to travel back in time and recruit Dorothy.

Big news in the world of movies, as Warner Bros. has announced (yet another) release date for Tenet, Christopher Nolan’s massive tentpole extravaganza that could just save movie theaters as we know them.

According to the Hollywood Reporter and the rest of the trades, the film is set to open August 26 and the following days in some 70 territories around the world. After Labor Day, it’ll open in a handful of cities in the United States. Which cities? WHO KNOWS!

This is the only rational thing for distributors and exhibitors alike. Without new product, the movie theaters are going to go bust. They simply can’t float along for the next year while we wait for a vaccine that might never come. And without theaters, movie studios can’t make the money they need to create $200 million tentpole features. (Whether or not the unaffordability of the $200M tentpole might be a good thing is another question entirely, and one we may address at some further date.) So, the studios are going to do what the studios should’ve been doing from the beginning: figure out where movies can be released without risking a massive health crisis and releasing them there.

There are a bunch of fascinating little tidbits about this whole situation—the scrapping of what has become the de rigueur global day-and-date release strategy designed to cut down on piracy and keep a lid on spoilers; the fact that China, the world’s second-biggest market, might be out of play given that country’s crackdown on films over two hours; the obvious desperation of theater owners who need something, anything to play in order to bring people back to the movies—but what I’d really like to know is this: How will Warner Bros. decide which U.S. cities are safe enough to show the movie?

Are they going to be looking at declining death rates? Declining hospitalization rates? Declining positive test rates? Declining numbers of positive tests, period? Increasing ICU capacity? Some combination thereof? The big question for the movie studio is a pretty simple one: What sort of factors do you have to keep in mind when you’re risking headlines like “Tenet Screening Coronavirus Hotspot; New Christopher Nolan Movie Linked to 78 Cases”? Because the question isn’t so much which locales have opened their theaters and which haven’t; anyone trusting localities and their citizens to open smartly and safely hasn’t really been paying attention. It is, rather, a function of crunching the numbers and figuring out where numbers are on the decline—where you’re most likely to see people distancing out and masking up.

It is sad that America is losing its primacy in the movie-theater-release game, at least temporarily. One day we shall be first in line again. But perhaps this is just the incentive we need to get people to finally do the responsible thing and mask up when you’re indoors. Don’t do it for grandma. Don’t do it for the person with preexisting conditions or other vulnerable communities.

Do it for yourself. Do it so the numbers will start to wane. Do it so the caseloads decrease city-by-city. Do it so you can see Tenet in glorious IMAX. Let’s get the Wear Your Masks So Your City Can See Tenet Challenge started, people.

Because if you folks don’t get your shit together I’m going to be incredibly annoyed when I have to fly to Turkey to see this thing.

Sonny Bunch

Sonny Bunch is the Culture Editor of The Bulwark. Before serving as editor-in-chief of the film site Rebeller, he was the executive editor of and film critic for The Washington Free Beacon. He is currently a contributor to The Washington Post and his work has appeared in The Wall Street Journal, National Review, Commentary Magazine, The Weekly Standard, and elsewhere. He is a member of the Washington Area Film Critics Association