'Tenet' to effectively mark reopening of movies in mid-July

'Tenet' to effectively mark reopening of movies in mid-July

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Edgewood Cinema

Marcus Theatres said Monday it is reducing seating at its theatres by 50% in an attempt to keep people away from each other to help reduce the spread of the coronavirus.

The trailer is out on video games and YouTube. The teaser is running as a television ad during NASCAR telecasts.

It’s for “Tenet,” a time-warping sci-fi thriller from “The Dark Knight,” “Interstellar” and “Dunkirk” director Christoper Nolan, which is likely to be the first big movie released to theaters since the coronavirus pandemic began in March.

The trailer and teaser end with “Coming to Theaters” but no specific date for the picture to hit screens. But, as of now, it’s set for July 17 — which just as well might be seen as the day that movies will return, even if theaters are permitted to open earlier.

In Nebraska, that reopening date, at reduced capacity, is likely to be July 1. But without major new products to play, there’s not likely to be a stampede back to theaters.

Based on the limited reopenings that have occurred in the last couple of weeks, people, contrary to the belief of some in the theater business, are not jumping at the chance to get back into movie houses to see films left over from March or “repertory” offerings, like “Raiders of the Lost Ark” or the "Harry Potter" pictures.

In San Antonio, for example, a theater chain that has reopened for a couple weeks is reporting business at 10% or less than the same weekends last year.

That’s likely to be the case everywhere until “Tenet” or another major film comes to the big screen.

“Until we have a steady supply of film released by major studios with a national marketing budget, we’re toast,” said Main Street Theatres' Bill Barstow. “If the new film isn’t there, it doesn’t matter when we open. Whether you go at 25 or 50 (percent of capacity), it doesn’t matter. They aren’t coming if we don’t have movies.”

Main Street Theatres is the only Nebraska-based theater chain, operating the Aksarben Cinema in Omaha, the Pioneer 3 in Nebraska City and a new theater set to open in Gretna later this year, in addition to theaters in Sioux City, Le Mars and Shenandoah, Iowa.

Barstow doesn’t plan to reopen Main Street’s theaters until new major films are available.

“There’s a big push to open as soon as possible to signal we’re all OK,” Barstow said. “That would be the equivalent of standing on the corner, burning $100 bills."

But it’s not yet certain that “Tenet” will open on July 17. Warner Bros. had, at one time, made it clear that “Tenet” wouldn’t be released that day if theaters remained closed in New York and Los Angeles.

Now, it appears that, if theaters in two of the three largest U.S. markets of New York, Los Angeles and Chicago are open and most countries have reopened, the release will happen.

Then Warner Bros. would be able to get the screens needed to create a blockbuster-level return, even if theaters are operating at reduced capacity.

“The genius of Christopher Nolan right now is if he opens on July 17, he gets 100% of the screens,” Barstow said. “When ‘Mulan’ opens the next week, he’ll get half of them. ‘Wonder Woman 1984’ is the next big film they’re talking about. That wouldn’t be until August, so it would get most of the screens.”

When theaters reopen, most will seat patrons in a checkerboard pattern — with no one in the row ahead or behind them and 6 feet on each side.

“We could return to general seating and have people self separate in theaters at 25% or 50%,” Barstow said. “But people like the reserved seating, so 6 feet from an occupied seat is what the industry is probably going to go with, that we’re probably going to go with.”

If “Tenet” is released and underperforms at the box office and “Mulan” has difficulty drawing the family crowd to theaters, it is likely that studios will again alter their release schedules, holding back bigger pictures until October or later.

That would be another blow to theaters, many of which are struggling to survive.

Theaters all over the country got hit hard during the last three weeks before they were forced to close, seeing scheduled pictures pulled from release and crowds for the movies that were playing dwindling to near nothing.

Industry speculation says one or two chains may not come back after the shutdown. Others may have to use bankruptcy to reemerge after months with no income on properties that are rented for tens of thousands a month.

And, late summer isn’t exactly the greatest time for theaters to reopen, especially in Nebraska.

“August in Nebraska for theaters is always rough for a number of reasons — going back to school, a lack of product, vacations, now you have this,” Barstow said. “And then if they get Husker football back up and running, you want to compete against that?”

Photos: The scene in Lincoln during the pandemic

Reach the writer at 402-473-7244 or kwolgamott@journalstar.com. On Twitter @KentWolgamott  

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