Christopher Nolan’s ‘Tenet’ Will Not Skip Theaters for HBO Max Debut – But Other Movies Could

AT&T CEO John Stankey teases possible shift in release strategy for some Warner Bros. releases

"Tenet" (Warner Bros.)

Don’t worry, Christopher Nolan’s “Tenet” will still debut in theaters — even if we don’t know when just yet — and not move to an HBO Max streaming release, AT&T CEO John Stankey said Thursday. But the media boss signaled that other Warner Bros. titles could skip theaters for a debut on streaming.

“Do I think that there could be some things that we had originally chartered and built for theatrical release that maybe migrate into an SVOD construct? Sure, I think that could occur,” Stankey said during a second-quarter earnings call for the Warner Bros. parent company Thursday. “Is it going to happen on a movie like ‘Tenet’ or something like ‘Wonder Woman 1984’? I’d be very surprised if that would be the case. In fact, I can assure you on ‘Tenet’ that’s not going to be the case.”

Of course, Stankey said it is “nice to have the optionality” of WarnerMedia’s new streaming service, HBO Max, should Warner Bros. choose to shift other titles planned for the big screen to an SVOD release amid the pandemic.

On Monday, Warner Bros. delayed the theatrical release of “Tenet” again, moving it from Aug. 12 to an unnamed 2020 date, saying the new release date should be announced “imminently.” The studio also postponed the opening of its next release, “The Conjuring 3,” to June 4, 2021, from Sept. 11, 2020.

Warner Bros.’ other releases for 2020 so far remain unchanged: “Wonder Woman 1984” and “Dune” on October 2 and December 18, respectively.

After stay-at-home orders and movie theater closures began in mid-March due to the coronavirus, “Tenet” was one of the few movies that remained steadfast on its original release date of July 17. It became a movie that theater chains used as a target for reopening and hopefully luring audiences back. But as cases have risen throughout the U.S., “Tenet” too has been forced to vacate its theatrical release date, first to August 12 and now to another time in 2020.

AMC Theatres said on Thursday morning it plans to postpone its U.S. movie theater reopening until “mid to late August,” specifically to line up with the “currently expected release dates” for “Tenet” and Disney’s “Mulan.”

As some movie theaters have reopened around the world, including in Korea, Japan, China and elsewhere, it’s becoming increasingly likely not just for “Tenet,” but for other major studio blockbusters, that some films may open internationally or in other cities before debuting in America or even opening in a traditional wide release.

“I said last quarter that I fully expected coming out of COVID that I would be surprised if the industry as a whole didn’t see some adjustment in the theatrical construct,” Stankey said on the call Thursday. “And I also made the point that, look, I think theatrical still has an absolute important role moving forward. There is just some content that is going to be more enjoyable and better to see in theaters than in the living room. And we fully believe that and we want to work with our theatrical partners and exhibitors to try get through this very difficult period.”

He added: “However, I don’t know when theaters are going to open, just like I’m not sure I can say exactly when schools are going to reopen and what the circumstances are going to be around it. And there is no question that the longer this goes on, there is going to be some content on the margins we look at and say it may be better served to be distributed in another construct or a different construct. I love the fact that we have that option now. I love the reality that we’ve been able to build a platform that we can get leverage and capabilities out of any content we build, theatrical or otherwise, and pick the platform and where we go with it.”

AT&T reported its Q2 earnings ahead of Stankey’s comments on the call Thursday, which you can read more about here.