Warner Bros. is testing the waters of the movie theater industry with the release of Tenet. Christopher Nolan's latest sci-fi thriller is the first big blockbuster film to hit worldwide cinemas since the coronavirus pandemic hit the US in March. All of Hollywood is watching how Tenet performs in the wildly uncertain landscape of partial theater re-openings and wary patrons. Warner Bros. has apparently taken a look at the terrain and is adjusting its marketing strategy. In a new report, a Warner Bros. exec explains why the studio is looking to have Tenet hang around in theaters for a long time.
Ann Sarnoff is head of WarnerMedia Studios and Networks Group did an interview about Tenet's release (and the general attempt to re-galvanize the movie theater industry). In that feature, Sarnoff explains that given the current reality of things, Warner Bros. has space and freedom to let Tenet run in theaters for much longer than the typical window of time for a big blockbuster theatrical release. As Sarnoff tells Variety:
"We’re using the old marathon-versus-sprint approach. We’re in it for the long game. It’s so unprecedented to launch it this way. We’re feeling good and waiting for some numbers to start coming in."
As Sarnoff indicates, what WB is actually doing is reverting back to an older model of the movie theater business (insert Tenet inversion joke here...). When Hollywood churned out fewer big films - and theaters only ran one or two films at a time - a big movie could run for months on end. It was only with the rise of big blockbuster franchise movie-making in the 21st century that the theater industry transformed into a game of hyping things up for massive opening weekend hauls, before all attention shifts to the next big movie that arrives in a week or two.
As stated, Tenet is now releasing at a time where theaters only have it, Disney's New Mutants, and whatever nostalgia films they're trying to run to attract patrons back. That's a rare opportunity for these modern times. Tenet basically has the entire month of September to run as the big featured blockbuster movie, before suitable "competition" arrives in the form of Wonder Woman 1984 on October 2nd - a movie that also belongs to Warner Bros. So, if the studio is willing to adopt an attitude of patience, the returns could actually be worthwhile - some that Sarnoff acknowledges:
“We love this movie. We really thought it deserved to be on the big screen. We’re very grateful for the fact that we have movie theaters back now. We’re getting so much press that it’s another layer of publicity that we are grateful for. We are hearing very good indicators from our research.”
Tenet is now in theaters and IMAX (where available).