Today’s big news is that the release date for Christopher Nolan’s film Tenet has been pushed to… indefinite. The film cost $200 million to produce and that doesn’t account for the amount of advertising that Warner Brothers has already sunk into promoting the summer tentpole film. Nolan is an auture director who believes that the big screen is where films should be seen. I admire that, but I am also realistic. At this point, I am not sure why movie studios continue to hold onto the hope that the movie going experience will return to normal volume any time in 2020. Even if theaters open in some limited capacity, I know I won’t be going to sit in a confined space with a group of people just to watch a movie – Nolan film or otherwise, no movie is good enough to risk my life for.
Studios, not just Warner Brothers, need to start using the digital avenues of getting films released and stop hoping that theaters are going to return to normal soon. Films like Nolan’s Tenet or Disney’s Star Wars or MCU films at this point seem like a relic from a movie-going past that may never fully return. And as theaters continue to be closed and people continue to rely on streaming services for consuming movies, people are going to start discovering that they don’t need big tentpole summer releases to be entertained.
Films like Palm Springs, Greyhound and The Old Guard are all films that had streaming premieres – and have garnered some serious views. The combined budget for the three films was less than Tenet’s $200 million budget (Palm Springs at $5 millon, Greyhound at $50.3 million and The Old Guard at $70 million). When the summer of 2020 is over and people think back at the movies that they enjoyed during the summer…Are they going to say Tenet? Nope. They will probably remember one of the smaller (arguably, just as entertaining) films they saw on a streaming service – my vote, so far for this summer is Palm Springs which is immensely entertaining.
So what are studios going to do? Warner Brothers is sitting on Tenet and Wonder Woman 1984. Disney is sitting on Mulan (still optomistically slated for an August 21st) and Black Widow. Universal is sitting on No Time to Die (the first Bond movie from Universal after it acquired the rights). Are studios going to sit indefinitely on these films? Maybe, but I hope not. Will studios start looking at releasing these films digitally? I hope so. If theaters begin a slow reopening, would you go to the theater to see a movie with a smaller crowd? I’m not.
I am hoping as big studios continue to hold out on movie releases until theaters reopen, this will embolden streaming services will continue to take advantage of this time. With people stuck at home and looking for entertainment, this is a great time for streaming services to acquire content that maybe too niche for a large theatrical release and then release it on their streaming platforms. Because of the sheer volume of content on streaming services, having a lot of niche content to entertain subscribers is a good thing. There is no need to make a mass market friendly tent pole films and hope that a $100 million budget can be recouped with international ticket sales.
I see this as a turning point for filmmaking. The current drought of summer blockbusters in theaters create audiences hungry for entertainment. They will turn to streaming services where they will discover creative movies made by filmmakers who are not beholdened to risk-adverse large studios and can take risks in bold storytelling.