AT&T CEO John Stankey Is ‘Not Optimistic’ About Theatrical Recovery in Early 2021

And he admits “Tenet” was no “home run”

Last Updated: October 22, 2020 @ 7:13 AM

AT&T CEO John Stankey said Thursday that he knows Warner Bros.’ theatrical release of Christopher Nolan’s “Tenet” in September was not a “home run” — and furthermore, he is “not optimistic” about a box office recovery in early 2021.

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“We’ve done some experimentation, we tried a few things. I can’t tell you that we walked about from the ‘Tenet’ experience saying it was a home run,” Stankey said Thursday morning on a conference call tied to AT&T’s Q3 earnings release. “I’m happy we did it. I think the team was incredibly creative. I think we learned a few things about what we can do.”

“We’re expecting this to be incredibly choppy moving into next year,” he added on the subject of Warner Bros. box office prospects. “We’re not optimistic. We’re not…expecting a huge recovery in theatrical moving into the early part of next year. We’re expecting it to continue to be choppy. And as a result of that, we’re having to evaluate all of our options and keep them open.”

Over the next “month or two,” Stankey said he will better know what options might be available for the studio’s content — which raises the prospect that additional films might bypass theaters for release on the company’s nascent HBO Max streaming platform.

Stankey’s comments raise the possibility that Warner Bros. will again push back the release of “Wonder Woman 1984,” a $200 million superhero film that is currently slated to hit theaters on Christmas Day. In recent weeks, Hollywood studios have been moving big-budget releases off of the 2020 release calendar given ongoing concerns about the state of moviegoing as the pandemic drags on.

Read about AT&T’s third-quarter 2020 financial performance here.

“Tenet,” which could have been even further delayed (or gone to WarnerMedia’s streaming service HBO Max), has grossed just north of $50 million at the U.S. box office, with a $20 million four-day opening weekend that came from a smaller pool of movie theaters operating at less-than-full capacity due to the pandemic. (Indoor heaters in key territories like California and New York have remained closed.) Internationally, the movie has made $283 million, according to Box Office Mojo.

Nolan’s mind-bending film stars John David Washington, Robert Pattinson and Elizabeth Debicki.