It looks like the universe has something against Tenet. For quite some time now, Christopher Nolan has maintained his eagerness to release Tenet in cinemas ASAP. Nolan wants to be the man who pulls people back into the theatre halls in the post-pandemic world. Which is why Nolan was initially adamant about the film maintaining its July release date. However, Nolan and Warner Bros eventually had to give in because the US does not seem to have a handle on the COVID-19 situation at all. Tenet is currently tentatively set to release on the 13th of August.
Now, it looks like the film is facing another obstacle that could potentially damage its box office. China, the second-biggest movie market in the world, as far as box office receipts are concerned, has introduced a new barrier, also due to the pandemic. While Chinese cinemas are gearing up to reopen on the 20th of July, according to Indiewire, the government has said that to limit the length of time audiences spend in auditoriums, all movies must have a runtime of two hours or less. Christopher Nolan’s Tenet has a runtime of 150 minutes.
While it’s true that Tenet currently does not have a release date in China locked in yet, this new ruling will certainly make the folks at Warner Bros break a sweat. After all, Nolan’s previous three films did perform pretty well at the Chinese box office. The Dark Knight Rises grossed $US 52.7 million in China, Interstellar raked in a whopping $US 121.9 million, and Dunkirk made $US 50.9 million.
Tenet has a gigantic production budget of $US 225 million, the most Nolan has spent on a non-comic book affair. (Inception had a budget of $US 160 million.) And a few days ago, Indiewire reported that “It’s the film that’s meant to save theatres. The $800 million gross suggests that the film was produced for $400 million, including production and advertising. Since roughly half the gross goes to exhibitors, the film will only start turning a profit once it crosses the $800 million mark.”
To date, only three of Nolan’s films have crossed the $US 800 million mark — The Dark Knight, Inception and The Dark Knight Rises. Tenet is said to be Nolan’s most ambitious film to date and the hype surrounding the film is massive. I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that Nolan and gang will be hoping the film cracks the $US 1 billion dollar mark. The potential is there. But there’s also no denying that we live in a very different era of blockbuster cinema than when Inception hit the big screens 10 years ago.
If we look at the nine films that grossed more than $US 1 billion at the global box office in 2019 (click here), four of them are comic book properties, two of them are Disney live-action remakes, one of them is Star Wars and the other two are Disney animated sequels. Coming in at number 10 and 11 are Jumanji: The Next Level and Fast & Furious: Hobbs & Shaw, both of which are part of existing franchises, both of which star The Rock, the latter of which did exceptionally well in China, and neither of which grossed more than $US 800 million. A similar pattern can be seen when we look at the 2018 global box office. However, 2018 does offer one positive takeaway. Bohemian Rhapsody, a non-franchise biopic grossed over $US 900 million worldwide, despite only making a somewhat negligible $US 13 million in China.
Tenet is one of my most anticipated films of 2020. I’m salivating just thinking about it. There is little doubt that it’s going to blow my mind. But given our current cinema climate, plus the pandemic, plus the fact that China isn’t allowing films longer than 2 hours to screen in theatres, I do worry about Tenet‘s box office potential. At this point, I’m convinced that Tenet should be postponed to next year, or at the very least to the fall of 2020.