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Movie theaters had their doors shut and locked for months now. Check out the box office numbers for 'Tenet' and what it means for the future of movies.

Box office numbers for ‘Tenet’: Why they matter for the future of movies

Movie theaters have had their doors shut and locked for months now, which has left dozens of blockbuster movies sitting in limbo. Some have announced 2021 release dates, others have allowed a more quiet release for digital rentals or streaming (even Disney’s Mulan gave in to this option), and some are still waiting to make a decision – then there’s Tenet.

Christopher Nolan is arguably one of the most praised writers and directors currently making movies. Considering his IMDb credits start in 1989, his list of credits is rather short. However, this is part of what makes his work so sought after. Nolan takes his time with his work and often ensures its quality by both writing and directing.

While Nolan’s work on the Batman trilogy starring Christian Bale is highly praised, he’s one of the few people to work in comic book films to be better known for other movies. He’s a champion of intricate storytelling, he breaks rules of a basic plot arc with wild success, and endeavors to engross as many of a viewer’s senses as possible.

Nolan is the creator behind the mind-bending movies Inception, Interstellar, Memento, and The Prestige. His latest movie Tenet was expected to follow in these movies’ footsteps, this time taking on the theme of time travel.

Being that Christopher Nolan is well respected for his original movies Tenet was easily one of the most highly anticipated movies in 2020’s summer line-up. Odds are it would have dominated in the box office.

However, being that 2020 is the year of the garbage fire, movie theaters were forced to shut down in March and only a handful have recently opened – in the end of August, usually the tail end of the summer blockbuster movie season.

Tenet was originally expected to hit theaters in July, then it was pulled, then it was given a new release date in late July, then it was pulled again, etc. Tenet has seen its release date jockeying between “to be determined” and “an even later date” over and over again. 

Theaters have, for the most part, appeared to be taking cues from Tenet on when they’ll reopen theaters, knowing that after months of no customers they at least have a shot at drawing in a lot of people with this one. Essentially, it has been accepted that Tenet will be the first film to be released in theaters after having no premieres for months.

Tenet officially releases in a number of countries this week, and the review embargo was lifted days ago. The U.S. will see a movie theater release of the film on September 3rd.

As such, movie theaters are beginning to reopen their doors, and while they wait for Tenet and other possible future premieres are doing showings of fan favorites and other classics.

A lot is riding on this Tenet premiere, though. For years there have been whispers of “the downfall of movie going”. With the rise in comfort and ease of watching movies at home on platforms like Netflix and Hulu people posit that sitting in a movie theater with strangers while eating overpriced snacks will become a thing of the past.

Some are wondering if the pandemic will have expedited this change in movie consumption as people become even more accustomed to watching from their couch, where they don’t have to worry about catching COVID-19.

The box office numbers, to some, will indicate the level of desire for movie theater premieres, and the future health of the theater industry in general. If Tenet, of all movies, is unable to snag a high box office number, then we may see an increase in straight to digital releases for certain kinds of movies.

However, it’s also important to note that it’s impossible for Tenet to acquire anywhere near the kinds of numbers it would have if the entire world hadn’t been hit by a pandemic. Most theaters are still not open, and giant movie hubs like Los Angeles and New York are still under intense lockdowns due to the rampant spread of COVID-19 in these cities.

The movie chain AMC has worked to assure potential moviegoers that new health standards have been put into place, including advanced air systems, but many people will remain unconvinced that going to see a movie in a theater is a good idea. 

Being stuck in the same small space as strangers for two hours, many of whom will not be wearing masks because they’re eating & drinking, doesn’t sound all that different from being on an airplane.

No matter how badly people want to see Tenet in theaters, where they can be fully immersed in the story without distraction, many of us will be impatiently waiting to see it on our home televisions. Perhaps, if we’re lucky, when the pandemic is deemed to be over, they’ll re-release the film in theaters.

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