Chris Nolan’s spy thriller ‘Tenet’ enters uncharted waters



In the normal, pre-COVID-19 era, Christopher Nolan’s international espionage thriller Tenet would have been released on 350-plus screens, potentially grossing as much or more than his last two films, Dunkirk and Interstellar.

Now in these ‘new normal’ times with Victorian cinemas closed and all others operating at limited capacity, trying to predict the opening weekend BO and beyond for the Warner Bros. film starring John David Washington, Robert Pattinson, Elizabeth Debicki, Michael Caine and Kenneth Branagh is a leap into the unknown.

In its favour are two factors: Every exhibitor in the country is desperately short of new product and keen to play the film on as many screens as possible; and with minimal competition in September/October, a long run is virtually assured.

Hence Tenet’s paid previews this weekend will take place on at least 210 locations and a total of 500+ screens. A Roadshow rep says the screen numbers for the August 27 debut will be similar.

Exhibitors are bullish. Hayden Orpheum Picture Palace GM Alex Temesvari tells IF: “I believe it’s going to drive large audiences back to the cinema. It’s the first true event film of the year and audiences have been starved of big budget spectacles for most of 2020.”

Temesvari expects multiple sell-outs this weekend for both 70MM and digital sessions due to the combination of demand and capacity restrictions.

Elizabeth Debicki in ‘Tenet.’

Majestic Cinemas CEO Kieren Dell hasn’t seen Nolan’s film but has spoken to other exhibitors who say that, while the plot is hard to describe, they rate it as the best action movie in a decade.

At his eight locations restricted capacities will be offset to an extent by additional showtimes. For example, there will be 62 sessions on five screens at Port Macquarie.

Warner Bros. is launching Tenet, plot under wraps, in the majority of international markets on August 26-28, in the US on September 3 and in China the following day.

Interstellar grossed $21 million in 2014 and Dunkirk ended up with $23.5 million. Dell thinks a more apt comparison is the director’s Inception a decade ago, which hauled in $28 million in its first four weeks and finished with $35.6 million.

“Given that Melbourne is out, I think a result of $20 million would be a huge success in the first 4-6 weeks, and maybe $25 million over the longer period,” Dell predicts.

Cinema Nova CEO Kristian Connelly hasn’t seen it but industry colleagues told him it’s worth the wait and should do considerable repeat business.

“Pre-COVID-19, the expectation would have been a $25 million – $30 million Australian domestic result,” Connelly says.

“As we haven’t yet had a genuine blockbuster to indicate what the market is capable of under the current conditions, it’s anyone’s guess.

“Whatever the final gross, there is an expectation it will play far longer than it might have, given some audiences might take their time to get back the cinema, as well as the absence of competing blockbusters.”

Temesvari adds: “We’re in truly uncharted waters, but given the pent-up demand and that fact that it’s the only game in town, that will likely go a long way to making up for audience capacity restrictions and some key markets being closed.”