The underwhelming box office performance of Christopher Nolan’s Tenet led to Warner Bros.’ new 2021 streaming release strategy. In early September, the highly-anticipated Tenet became the first major tentpole to brave a theatrical release amid the coronavirus pandemic. Though many hoped it would provide a much-needed boost to the struggling box office and recently reopened theaters, Tenet ultimately stumbled upon its release. After making what only amounted to $10 million in its opening weekend, the film’s weekend grosses steadily decreased, and Warner Bros. remained quiet about the weekday numbers. All told, Tenet has earned over $300 million worldwide and only an estimated $57.6 million domestically.


Tenet‘s disappointing performance seemed to indicate audiences aren’t quite ready to return to movie theaters, leading to most other major releases being delayed until next year. Studios have spent the past several months evaluating the best way to debut their movies during the pandemic, and last week, Warner Bros. made the most drastic move yet: All of their 2021 films will be released in theaters and on HBO Max on the same day. The decision sent shockwaves throughout Hollywood and earned a fierce condemnation from Nolan himself.

During an interview with CNBC, WarnerMedia chair and CEO Ann Sarnoff explained how Tenet‘s box office performance played a part in getting the studio to commit to their 2021 plan. “We learned a lot about the inclination of people to go to theaters when they’re open, obviously,” Sarnoff said. “What we learned through ‘Tenet’ is that the U.S. is not quite ready yet to fully reopen and have full engagement of fans back into theaters, hence this new strategy.” The major HBO Max releases will only apply to the United States. As it stands right now, the streaming plan will only be used for 2021, though many believe that could be extended.

Based on Sarnoff’s new comments, it sounds like Nolan was right in his fears about the lesson Hollywood would take from Tenet‘s missteps. In November, Nolan stated he was concerned studios were only seeing how a movie failed to perform well rather than evaluating what worked and coming up with a strategy to help the industry. Sarnoff has essentially admitted as much; because not many people turned up for Tenet, Warner Bros. has somewhat turned their backs on movie theaters.

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Of course, with the pandemic still a major concern, it’s no surprise Warner Bros. decided the best plan was to adopt the streaming model. There are many moviegoers who remain wary about returning to theaters, and by releasing movies on HBO Max, Warner Bros. has allowed them to remain part of the audience for next year’s biggest releases. There are certainly pros and cons to be found within Warner Bros.’ new strategy, and Nolan will likely continue to see the cons. The facts are this: Tenet did a theatrical release only and struggled to make an impact at the box office. As a result, Warner Bros. is trying something different next year. Only time will tell if it gives them the results they want.

Source: CNBC

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