'Tenet' Won't Play at Drive-Ins in Markets Where Indoor Theaters Are Closed

At this point, I really don’t know what is going on in the hallowed halls of Warner Bros. Studios in regards to Tenet. To be fair, WB was handed a crappy situation with the coronavirus threatening theatrical releases across the globe. But the studio has also had months to come up with a solution, and instead, they appeared to just…drop the ball. WB’s approach appears to be little more than “Let’s wait and see!”, and it’s not paying off, at all. So while Tenet is opening overseas this week, its fate in the U.S. remains in doubt. And now, to make things even more needlessly complicated, Warners seems to be intentionally limiting where the film can play at drive-ins.

Before I get fully into this, let me just say: I don’t think the problems surrounding Tenet can all be placed at the feet of Christopher Nolan. I know Nolan has become a kind of punching bag in this situation, with some saying many of the Tenet release issues can be chalked up to his perceived pretentiousness. But I honestly don’t think that’s fair, and I don’t think Nolan is pulling all these strings behind-the-scenes like some malevolent puppetmaster.

That said, whatever the hell is going on with Tenet right now, it’s more than a little confusing and concerning. Case in point: Variety has a Tenet story today that sounds so wacko that I had to re-read it a few times to make sure I was getting it right. Here, let me just directly quote it:

But two weeks ahead of its domestic debut, scheduled for Sept. 3, Warner Bros. offered some clarity to exhibitors about its plans for Nolan’s latest. The studio issued strict guidelines to drive-in operators across the country, mandating that “Tenet” can only play in outdoor venues if indoor theaters in that particular market are open.

I’m sorry, what? So let me get this straight: when given the option to play Tenet at a (safe) drive-in, Warner Bros. is willing to say “NO!” if the drive-in is in a market where indoor (and potentially unsafe) theaters are closed. In other words, if indoor theaters can’t have Tenet, drive-ins can’t have it, either. I’m sorry – that’s just silly. Hell, it’s beyond silly – it’s negligent. Drive-ins may not be a perfect solution to our current situation, but they would at least be something. I’ve been banging the drum and proclaiming that theaters and studios should have worked out a plan by now to convert the parking lots for U.S. theaters into pop-up drive-ins until indoor theaters are safe again. But if this Tenet story is true, studios like Warner Bros. have zero interest in that. It has to be indoor theaters or nothing.

The reasoning behind this is said to be because Warner Bros. wants to keep the film “from areas where traditional venues are still shuttered in order to help preserve the twists and turns of the plot, which has been shrouded in secrecy,” but if that’s the case, it means Warner Bros. has no idea how the internet works.

And it’s worth adding that Variety says that “given the rapidly changing nature of the pandemic, sources familiar with the situation stress these plans could be flexible” and that studios like Warner Bros. could change their mind about drive-ins in the coming weeks. And I hope that ends up being the case, because I’d really like to see Tenet, and because none of this makes any sense to me. As one exhibitor told Variety, “There’s no predicting what’s going to happen with theaters reopening. Studios do things all the time that don’t make sense.”

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