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TENET: Why Releasing It On HBO Max Might Be The Best Idea

Tenet, the upcoming Christopher Nolan movie has been the talk of the town since its first trailer was released. Starring John David Washington, Robert Pattinson, Dimple Kapadia, Elizabeth Debicki, Sir Michael Caine, and Sir Kenneth Branagh, Tenet is being widely anticipated by fans all across the globe.

Directed by the visionary auteur, Tenet’s first theatrical trailer left the fans wildly astonished for its sheer abstract theme. After the first trailer, fan theories started rolling in, of which the most common one was time-travel. Before any more conjecture could have been drawn, Robert Pattinson quickly shut down the theory. So far, a new concept has been making the rounds; time inversion.

The mystery of the abstract trailers might have been fascinating for fans to unravel, Tenet has once again attracted attention from the fans. But this time, it’s not Nolan’s story or skilled direction, rather, just the distribution channel for the movie.

Earlier, Christopher Nolan and Steven Spielberg became vocal proponents of preserving cinema through movie theatres. A strong supporter of the ‘theatrical experience’, Nolan has criticized the rapid boom of streaming platforms like Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, and the other kinds. In his belief, the rise of Netflix and other such platforms will destroy the authenticity of cinemas.

Having stated his opinion, it was highly unlikely that Tenet would ever be released on a streaming platform. But, the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has brought the entire industry to its knees, and Tenet is no exception. Previously set to release on July 17th to match the ten-year anniversary of Inception, it was then postponed to July 31st, followed by once again getting delayed to August 12th. But, as cases keep rising, Warner Bros. has now put the release date on hold till situation normalises.

As per calculations, each postponement delay costs Warner Bros. between $200,000 to $400,000 in marketing fees. The entire budget of Tenet is between $200 million to $225 million. IndieWire has stated that the additional marketing campaigns and promotional events will easily elevate the total cost to around $300 million. Till date, Tenet is the most expensive original project of Christopher Nolan which must earn nearly $500 million to break-even.

Despite such high cost, Christopher Nolan has remained undeterred about his decision. His plan has also been backed by AT&T CEO John Stankey who has made his decision clear to not release Tenet on HBO Max. As Warner Bros.’ other expensive projects like Zack Snyder’s Justice League/Snyder Cut, Gotham Central, Green Lantern by Greg Berlanti, Dune: Sisterhood, and a few other projects are set to be released on HBO Max, the speculations surrounding the release of Tenet and Wonder Woman 84 started making the rounds too.

Unsurprisingly, AT&T CEO John Stankey had to say the following regarding these speculations:

“Is it going to happen with a movie like Tenet or something like Wonder Woman? I’d be very surprised if that would be the case. In fact, I can assure you with Tenet, that’s not going to be the case.”

Interestingly, last year Martin Scorcese’s The Irishman was released on Netflix which met critical acclaim upon its release. Starring megastars like Al Pacino, Robert De Niro, and Joe Pesci, the release of a massive budget of $160 million, The Irishman is the most expensive movie to be released on a streaming platform so far. Netflix has claimed to gain profits from the movie, which offers a chance for Tenet to change its plans.

Despite Stankey and Nolan’s adamant decision for a theatrical release, analysts have a differing opinion. LightShed analysts Rich Greenfield, Brandon Ross, and Mark Kelley have shared their personal reasoning regarding Tenet‘s release on a streaming platform:

“Shifting ‘Tenet,’ a $200 million-plus budget film from Warner Bros., directed by Christopher Nolan directly to HBO Max could be just the power move WarnerMedia needs right now. If WarnerMedia has the guts and financial wherewithal to pivot ‘Tenet’ to HBO Max, we will quickly learn who is ‘king,’ content or distribution. Movie theaters have essentially prevented movie studios from evolving their business model over the past decade, even as consumer behavior has dramatically shifted. Studios have been stuck with the legacy sequential release pattern of movies with 75 days between theatrical and digital sale and six-to-eight months between theatrical and release into pay one. The COVID-19 pandemic has enabled studios to begin experimenting. Studios have only two ‘good’ choices for large budget films: Either delay films into 2021 in hopes of a vaccine or shift to (subscription video on demand).”

As the COVID-19 crisis is continually crippling the world economy, a theatrical release in major markets like the United States, India, and China seem quite distant now. Though the situation has been slowly returning to normal in a few countries, a worldwide release is definitely out of scope. Another solution to this issue would be a staggered release which was the case in the 1970s to save money on printing very expensive 35 mm prints.

But with the wide popularity of movies like Jaws and Star Wars, movie studios soon dropped the idea of staggered releases. World-wide releases are generally more profitable for large-scale movies like Tenet or other superhero movies with massive budgets. A staggered release might not be able to attain the profits envisioned by Warner Bros. for Tenet. As the next date of release has not yet been disclosed, only time can tell what lies ahead for Tenet and the future of cinema.

Written by Akash Senapati

Akash is an India-based writer who has previously worked with Quirkybyte and Xtrascoop. He loves DC Comics, Anime, Pink Floyd, and sleeping in no particular order. His favourite graphic-medium writers are Grant Morrison, Chris Claremont, Christopher Priest, Garth Ennis, and Eiichiro Oda. Prep time > Aliens.

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