During the summer, a lot of people were holding out hope that Christopher Nolan’s Tenet would ride to the rescue and single-handedly revive the flagging theatrical industry by drawing audiences all over the world back to their local multiplex in massive numbers. Obviously that didn’t happen, though, and while the time-bending action thriller ranks as the third-highest grossing movie of the year and made almost $300 million more than any other Hollywood production to have been released since March, it still counts as a bomb.
With a budget of at least $200 million and an extensive marketing campaign that continued to roll on even as theaters kept their doors firmly locked, analysts predicted that Tenet would need to pull in at least $800 million globally to start turning any sort of worthwhile profit for Warner Bros. And while it played well internationally, domestic audiences were less than convinced and Nolan’s latest limped to a meager $57 million on home turf.
Of course, in simpler times, Tenet stood every chance of troubling the billion dollar threshold given the cache that the director has with fans, not to mention a reputation as one of the few filmmakers capable of opening a movie based on nothing else but the presence of his name in the advertising. Until his hot streak came to an end due to unforeseen circumstances, in fact, Nolan’s last five features had brought in between $527 million and $1.08 billion, and Tenet was expected to land somewhere in the middle.
Now, WarnerMedia CEO Ann Sarnoff has admitted that the big budget epic’s lacklustre performance is one of the major reasons that the studio are sending their entire slate of 2021 releases to HBO Max, saying:
“We learned a lot about the inclination of people to go to theaters when they’re open, obviously. What we learned through Tenet is that the U.S. is not quite ready yet to fully reopen and have full engagement of fans back into theaters, hence this new strategy.”
That’s basically the opposite of what Nolan wanted to happen, when he revealed his concerns that Tenet‘s failure to perform would see the studios focus on the bottom line instead of coming up with a strategy to salvage the theatrical experience. But it is what it is and it’ll be fascinating to see how WB’s decision impacts the industry moving forward.