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The Weekend Movie Takeaway: ‘Tenet’ Gets Re-Schedule Indefinitely While ‘Bill & Ted’ Go Straight To Streaming

July 28, 2020
2 min read time

The COVID-19 pandemic has seen one of America's favorite national pastimes—going to the movies—upended to an extent not seen since World War II.

For the first several months of the crisis, it was difficult to know just how long it was going to last, while the measures taken revealed a degree of bet-hedging. Studios began shifting the release of certain titles back six months to the end of the year, while others took more short-term action, banking on things being back to normal by now. But last week saw a raft of announcements that once and for all seems to finally acknowledge the true enormity of the disruption.

The dominos began to fall when Tenet, the highly anticipated thriller from writer-director Christopher Nolan, removed itself from its August 12th release date. The August date was its third announced by Warner Bros, having previously shifted from July 17th and then July 31st.

The short-term changes had already seemed unrealistic, but were apparently driven by Nolan's desire to have Tenet be the first film back in theaters to help revitalize the communal movie-going experience he is famously such a vocal proponent of. When the August release was cancelled, it was the first time Warner Bros. didn’t announce a new release date. Although they promised a 2020 release date would be announced imminently, it was widely reported as having been shelved indefinitely.

Subsequent reporting indicated that the film may release in other, less COVID-ravaged parts of the world first, challenging the "America first" movie release plan that has constituted the prevailing norm for multiple decades. Warner Bros. are also now having to quell rumors that the clearly highly cinematic film won't go straight on to the HBO Max streaming service, a fate that has befallen several other big 2020 titles, such as Bill & Ted Face The Music (which is now going straight to premium on demand in the States), the Tom Hanks World War II film Greyhound (which went straight to Apple TV+) and Judd Apatow's The King of Staten Island, which went straight to premium on demand).

With Tenet acting as the canary in the coal mine of future blockbuster releases, it's indefinite delay was followed late last week by a string of subsequent delays.

The live action adaptation of Mulan had a Hollywood premiere in March, just prior to lockdown, and like Tenet, has had several rescheduled release dates subsequently come and go. The latest announced date, August 21st, has been cancelled and there is wide speculation that it may end up debuting on the Disney+ streaming service in the States.

A raft of other big Disney films have their longterm plans scuttled by COVID, with various unnamed Star Wars films and all four Avatar sequels (no stranger to non-Coronavirus-related delays) being delayed by at least a year.

Other titles (re) scheduled for fall—such as the Marvel Cinematic Universe's Black Widow and the Ryan Reynolds action comedy Free Guy, have been pushed back to the end of the year. But even that seems optimistic at this point.

America's successful cultural imperialism of the western world has been led by movies for three quarters of a century, and stands as one of the strongest indicators of the pervasive power of narrative. It'll be fascinating to see the long term impact of a period where no big American movies are released on western societies.

And it'll be even more fascinating to see if this unprecedented slow-down impacts large scale screen narrative in general.

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