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Tenet set to spark cinema revival

by Don Groves — August 20, 2020

Christopher Nolan’s international espionage thriller Tenet will have paid previews in Australia this weekend at more than 210 cinemas, playing on 500-plus screens.

In the pre-COVID-19 era, Hollywood blockbusters typically opened on 350-500 screens. So Tenet’s super-wide release, despite the Victorian lockdown which accounts for 26% of the national market, is quite remarkable. The print run for the August 27 debut will be similar.

Every exhibitor in the country is desperately short of new product and keen to play the film, which stars John David Washington, Robert Pattinson, Elizabeth Debicki, Michael Caine and Kenneth Branagh, on the maximum number of screens.

Image supplied by Warner Bros. / Roadshow Films

The national box office has been running at 10%-15% of last year’s levels so cinemas are hoping Tenet will revitalise the business and see the pipeline of Hollywood movies flowing again.

Hoyts Group CEO Damian Keogh said: “We hope Tenet will revive the industry and give the US studios the confidence to keep backing cinemas.”

Cinema Nova CEO Kristian Connelly said: “Assuming that Tenet commences a return to ‘business as normal’, we have to anticipate that more recognisable release patterns will return.“

Nolan’s Interstellar grossed $21 million in 2014 and Dunkirk ended up with $23.5 million. Majestic Cinemas’ Kieren Dell, who has not seen Tenet, thinks a more apt comparison is the director’s Inception a decade ago, which made $35.6 million.

“Given that Melbourne is out, I think a result of $20 million would be a huge success in the first 4-6 weeks, and maybe $25 million over the longer period,” predicts Dell, whose cinemas are allocating maximum screen time to the film, with 62 sessions in opening week at Port Macquarie.

Connelly said: “Pre-COVID-19, the expectation would have been a $25 million – $30 million Australian domestic result. As we haven’t yet had a genuine blockbuster to indicate what the market is capable of under the current conditions, it’s anyone’s guess.

“Whatever the final gross, there is an expectation it will play far longer than it might have, given some audiences might take their time to get back to the cinema, as well as the absence of competing blockbusters.”

As the pandemic forced US cinemas to close, the Walt Disney Co. opted to skip theatrical cinemas and release several films including Niki Caro’s live-action Mulan and Kenneth Branagh’s Artemis Fowl on Disney+ while Warner Bros’ animated feature Scoob! went straight to digital platforms followed by HBO Max.

Pre-COVID-19, US analysts believe Mulan had the potential to gross more than $US1 billion at cinemas worldwide, matching Aladdin. To achieve that revenue level, the studio would need around 30 million people — or half of Disney+ subscribers — to rent Mulan at $US29.99 a pop – a tall order, especially in a world hit by the worst recession in 100 years.

While release dates may change, at this stage Warner Bros’ Wonder Woman 1984, Disney’s The New Mutants, The King’s Man, Black Widow and Deep Water and Universal’s No Time to Die are scheduled to open at or around the same time as the US in the next few months.

Alex Temesvari, GM of the Hayden Orpheum Picture Palace, commented: “There are certainly some strong and key titles dated between now and the end of the year but as we know we can’t trade on one big film at a time. We need lots of different sized films, appealing to lots of different audiences.

“On some level, the big blockbuster allows some of the medium and smaller films to play, because there’s less pressure on them to prop up the business like there is right now. Before COVID changed the world, we were running 12-13 films a week on our six screens.

“At the moment we’re running about half of that and a number of those titles have survived longer than they deserved because there’s nothing more promising to take their place. And that’s with reduced hours and opening less screens. We really need a lot more films dated between now and Boxing Day for our industry to truly bounce back. We can’t leave it all up to Christopher Nolan.”

Connelly said: “While it is a different theatrical landscape to what we anticipated at the start of 2020, audiences will undoubtedly embrace the big-ticket releases as steps along the path to finding our New Normal.”

Dell observed: “There are certainly quite a few major releases which should lead to stronger trading as long as they stay on their release date. The issue is depth of releases – there are some large gaps and not a lot of support product. However, if things go well in the next month then we would hope that some of the films delayed until 2021 may start to come back onto the schedule and that smaller films that are currently undated will start to populate the release schedule, which we are already starting to see.”