What Happens if Warner Bros Has to Delay ‘Tenet’ Because Health Officials Aren’t Ready to Reopen Theaters?

Cinemark CEO Mark Zoradi says cinema chain is prepared in the event “Tenet” can’t open due to COVID-related delays in major cities

Warner Bros.’ anticipated Christopher Nolan blockbuster “Tenet” is touted as the film that can reignite a movie business beleaguered by the coronavirus pandemic. But major questions remain as to whether major cities — including New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Chicago — will be ready to reopen theaters in time for “Tenet’s” July 17 release.

“I can’t promise you, nor can Warner Bros. promise you that ‘Tenet’ is going to open on July 17, but you have to choose a date to plan to,” Cinemark CEO Mark Zoradi said during the company’s quarterly conference call with Wall Street analysts on Wednesday.

Zoradi was responding to a question from one analyst as to whether the possibility of continued closures in cities like New York and Los Angeles in any way shook his confidence that Warner Bros. would stick to its release date for “Tenet.”

It remains uncertain just how long the coronavirus pandemic will keep movie theaters and Hollywood dark. Then there’s the added factor of protests and riots that have erupted across the country following the killing of George Floyd. Experts have expressed concerns that such gatherings could exacerbate the pandemic.

Without the major cities ready for phase three of reopening plans, which is when theaters are set to reopen, it could be difficult for Warner Bros. to maintain the July 17 release.

“We’ve put this plan in place and it is flexible,” Zoradi said. “If for whatever reason it might be — if it’s virus related or whether it’s regulation related — and we have to delay for a month, or four weeks, or five weeks, we are prepared to be able to do that. We’re prepared from a financial standpoint; we’re prepared from an operational standpoint.

“However, until such time that Warners tells us they’re not going to be releasing that movie, we’re moving forward,” he continued. “We’ve been in close contact with Warner Bros. and they remain extremely optimistic and positive, as well does Chris Nolan, about the July 17 opening.”

Simply getting theaters open again aside, there are concerns throughout Hollywood, and across other industries (particularly live events), about whether moviegoers will be willing to take the potential risk of heading back to the cinema to sit in a dark theater full of strangers.

Zoradi said on the call that Cinemark’s surveys and research says yes, they will, as long as they’re confident in the safety measures being put in place. Still, early films like “Tenet,” despite the fervent fan base, might see more of a long tale rather than immediate performance.

“Once theaters reopen it will be more about the long-term box office performance of films, not the opening weekend,” senior Comscore analyst Paul Dergarabedian said. “If ‘Tenet’ opens while still in its first theatrical run and in a staggered fashion over the course of many weeks opens in additional major cities, it will still have the opportunity to generate solid numbers. It’s going to be about the marathon trajectory of the entire run, not the opening weekend sprint in this new reality come July.”

Bruce Nash, box office analyst and founder of TheNumbers, questioned how important it even is to have theaters in major cities open on July 17.

“There’s just huge uncertainty right now, and my guess is that box office receipts will be very low by historical standards for quite a while. However, anything that comes out in July isn’t going to have much competition, so there’s a certain logic in releasing a big film that will spend at least a couple of months in the top 10, and have fairly constant earnings for that time,” Nash said. “Warner Bros. can also take a bit of a hit financially in return for goodwill with the theaters that are open, and perhaps some good publicity.”

Cinemark, as well as other cinema chains like AMC, plan to reopen to the public in early July, after test runs and slowly ramping back up operations.

Cinemark on Wednesday laid out its health and safety plan for reopening its theaters, which includes increased cleaning and sanitation measures, minimizing physical interactions at the box office and concession stands, screening employees, stagger showtimes to minimize crowds, as well as ensure moviegoers are physically distancing within the theater. Cinemark will require all of its employees to wear masks and will encourage — but not require — guests to wear masks outside of what’s mandated by local authorities.

“We expect most counties and states will have relaxed restrictions and allow theaters to open up somewhere close to, if not fully, at 50% capacity,” Zoradi said. “Consumers want to come back to the movies, to the extent they feel confident in the health and safety protocols we put in place.”

Trey Williams

Trey Williams

Film Reporter covering the biz • [email protected] • Twitter: @trey3williams


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