Principle: More than 80% of the United States can see it in theaters on September 3


Social media opponents abound, but Christopher Nolan’s “Tenet” has plenty of reasons to keep its nationwide opener on September 3. Certainly: if Warner Bros. had to wait for the opening of New York and Los Angeles, that date would be highly improbable. These regions are traditionally so large that many films are initially opened in just these two cities, but with “Tenet” we can reasonably expect the opposite: it will open almost everywhere except in these large metropolitan areas.

Like Warner Bros. announced, “Tenet” will appear in “some” cities. Not all. They know it won’t play out everywhere initially, including the country’s two main markets. Given COVID-19, everything is subject to change – but these days that asterisk has to follow any long-term planning. Nolan’s film is set to open in 50 territories between August 26 and 28, including Germany, Canada, UK, France, Italy, Korea and Australia; other big countries like Russia and Japan follow soon after. China has also approved the film’s release, but no date.

Theaters are already operating in most of these countries; in the United States today, 45 states allow indoor theaters to operate (with safety precautions) in all or most locations. Due to the lack of new product, most have yet to do so. To prevent the Sept. 3 opening, governments would have to shut them down – and that’s much more difficult to do than delay authorization to open.

We’ve spoken to sources from exhibits in some of the riskier regions wondering if they’ll make the date, but it’s clear most cinemas across the country will open as licensed. They are not irresponsible people, but the survival of their business depends on it. And they will play “Tenet”.


Most of the American population now has indoor theaters in which to see “Tenet” on September 3, and most of them have drive-ins as a back-up. Even in COVID-19 hotspots like Atlanta and Houston, indoor theaters are open; the areas that now prohibit theater openings may change.

On the first three national circuits, Cinemark has already opened some locations. Regal’s website gives August 21 as a target, and AMC has said it expects an opening by the end of August for most theaters, if not sooner. Wide releases are slated to begin August 21 with “Unhinged” (Solstice), “Antebellum” (Lionsgate), “Words On Bathroom Walls” (Roadside Attractions) and a reissue of “Inception” (Warner Bros.). All should play with major marketing support and wide circulation – as usual. Expect more movies to be available.

It’s in three weeks. Raising that date will be the first step towards releasing “Tenet” 13 days later on September 3rd. Other theaters could wait, using this film to reopen on September 3. Restricted areas will press for permission, and we should expect reports of early practices to influence decisions. The hope is that the two weeks leading up to “Tenet” will create momentum forward (also: one of the reasons foreign territories will get the movie first).

We have compiled a comprehensive list of theater opening rules currently in effect; our sources include the extensive research done by the National Association of Theater Owners in addition to the external audit. Additionally, reported income from theaters open this past weekend showed indoor theaters operating in more than 40 states.

Based on this data, only Arizona, California, New Jersey, and New York City face statewide movie theater closures. Arizona has an August 9 reopening date; the others have no date. Some urban areas such as Seattle and Detroit also do not have approval.

Most states have capacity limits. Some range from 25% to 66% per auditorium; others have a specific maximum, regardless of the size of the auditorium. Various social distancing rules are in play everywhere.

« Principe »

Warner Bros.

All in all, even if all of California and New York could not open and a few other areas in addition, over 80% of the population would still have the potential to see “Tenet” in an indoor theater. Not that all of the moviegoers among these numbers will be there; an unspecified part of the audience – probably substantial – will not return even if this is hailed as the greatest film ever made.

Once again: this is all as it is. This is the catch. The past six months show that making firm predictions makes no sense. But be sure that it will not happen.

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