Sorry, there won’t be any good films until the US sorts itself out

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In Christopher Nolan’s breakthrough movie, Memento, the main character’s amnesia leaves him trapped in a loop, going through the same actions over and over again despite his best efforts to remember. It’s something we can all sympathise with at the moment – particularly when it comes to Nolan’s latest effort, Tenet, which has now been pushed back on three separate occasions.
The latest news is that it’s now been put on hold indefinitely – reportedly because cinema-lover Nolan is adamant that it should be seen only on the big screen (although ironically his refusal to release Tenet may be putting cinemas in trouble). The live-action remake of Mulan was the other great hope, but that too has been taken off the calendar after being pushed back from July to August initially. Unfortunately, the uneven nature of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic means that it might be a while before we see any blockbuster movie releases.


While cinemas in Europe and Asia may be reopening, in the United States they’re still a long way from being able to do so. A number of US cinema chains had hooked their reopening plans around the latest release date for Tenet, which was August 12 – but some have now postponed opening again. AMC – America’s largest cinema chain – has moved its reopening date back from July to mid-August, and there are rumours that some UK cinema chains may move their reopenings again as a direct result of the Tenet delay.
A film as big as Tenet generally gets a simultaneous worldwide release – not only to avoid spoilers and market favouritism, but also to ward off the ever present threat of piracy. Parasite, which came out in the UK several months after the US, is a good example of a bad release strategy.
A handful of titles have gone straight to streaming at a price level similar to an adult cinema ticket – Trolls World Tour had some notable success with this route, but it’s not an option that most distributors have taken. Disney has also dabbled – it released Artemis Fowl on Disney+, as well as a recording of Hamilton which would probably have gone to cinemas under normal circumstances.
Hamilton aside, however, it’s fair to say that direct-to-streaming is not a route that’s being considered for most films. The concern? It’s a bit like dumping your big-budget film in the petrol station DVD bargain bin. And anyway, there’s no real incentive for studios sitting on a blockbuster to release it right now when they could just ride out the wave and make more money later this year, or even next.


What that all means in practice is that the whole world is going to have to wait until the US gets its act together on coronavirus before the summer’s biggest films can actually be released in cinemas. We could be waiting a long time.
As well as Mulan and Tenet, here are rumours that Marvel’s Black Widow – originally slated for an autumn release – might not come out until 2021 either. The pandemic is even affecting next year’s slate – both Avatar 2 and the next Star Wars spin off have been pushed back by a year to 2022 and 2023 respectively. While production has restarted on Jurassic World 3, other studios are yet to resume work, which could mean further delays. This is all very bad news for cinema chains outside the US who are heavily reliant on Hollywood blockbusters to entice people back through their doors.
There are still some films to watch, however. In fact, at least one title has actually moved its release date forward as a result of the pandemic. You might not have Tenet, but you can go and see Russell Crowe in Unhinged.
Originally planned for late August, this story of a woman who gets tormented by a strange man after a driving argument has been moved forward to July 31 in an attempt to capitalise on being one of the first big-ish films back in cinemas. “Somebody’s got to do it,” Crowe said recently. The strategy worked in Germany, where Unhinged topped the charts after release a couple of weeks ago. So, bad news for Nolan fans and cinema chains – but if you love “road rage thrillers” it’s a golden age.


Amit Katwala is WIRED’s culture editor. He tweets from @amitkatwala
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