It’s early November and it’s been two months since there were any major new releases in theaters. That’s when Christopher Nolan’s Tenet became the first blockbuster to debut since the start of the coronavirus pandemic. The film grossed $345 million worldwide, which is not nothing (particularly in the middle of a worldwide health crisis) but still far below the grosses of a typical Nolan release. (Tenet made less in theaters than any Nolan feature since Insomnia.)

Nolan has largely been silent on the film’s release and reception, but he gave an interview to The Los Angeles Times about a new book on his work. In it, he addressed Tenet’s box office fortunes. Nolan said he was “thrilled” that the film grossed almost $350 million worldwide, but he also noted that he was “worried that the studios are drawing the wrong conclusions from our release.

He continued...

...rather than looking at where the film has worked well and how that can provide them with much needed revenue, they’re looking at where it hasn’t lived up to pre-COVID expectations and will start using that as an excuse to make exhibition take all the losses from the pandemic instead of getting in the game and adapting — or rebuilding our business, in other words.

Certainly it would be a shame if exhibitors were the ones to shoulder all the losses incurred by the pandemic. But I’ve also spoken with people who work in exhibition and feel like releasing Tenet when Warner Bros. did was ultimately more harmful than delaying it — because its poor box office performance, particularly in the United States (where it made only $53 million), scared the studios out of their other big fall releases.

That’s kind of what Nolan is saying in the Times interview — but his comments that studios need to “get in the game” and “adapt” don’t seem to account for the fact that all these massive movies — like Wonder Woman 1984Black Widow, and others — have already been made for enormous dollar amounts. Releasing them to theaters now and accepting that they’re not going to earn back their budgets isn’t adapting — it’s taking an enormous financial loss. The only way to “adapt” would be to make more movies that could be profitable on $50 million in domestic grosses, something the major distributors have been less and less apt to do in recent years — and would require years of planning and development.

That might help theaters in the long run — but not right now. Meanwhile, with little else to show, Tenet is still playing in many theaters around the country.

Gallery — Every Christopher Nolan Movie, Ranked From Worst to Best:

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