Christopher Nolan's 'Tenet' was set to kickstart movie theaters reopening. Now it's been delayed

Ryan Faughnder
John David Washington stars in Warner Bros. Pictures' action epic "Tenet," a Warner Bros. Pictures release.  (Melinda Sue Gordon/Warner Bros. Pictures.)

The release date of Christopher Nolan's "Tenet" has been delayed by two weeks, amid lingering concerns over theater closures due to the coronavirus.

The mysterious big-budget science fiction film was originally set for July 17, and theaters hoped it would kick-start the industry's return from a prolonged shutdown because of public health concerns. It now will be released July 31, said Warner Bros., the studio behind the film, on Friday.

The AT&T-owned studio will instead rerelease Nolan's high-concept action-mystery "Inception" on July 17, to celebrate the film's 10th anniversary.

The studio also will move sequel "Wonder Woman 1984" from a planned Aug. 14 opening to Oct. 2, as announced on social media by star Gal Gadot.

In addition, the Roald Dahl adaptation "Witches" moves off Oct. 9 to a TBD date; sequel "Godzilla vs. Kong" moves from Nov. 20 to May 21, 2021; animated feature "Tom & Jerry" goes from Dec. 23 to March 5, 2021; and the untitled "Matrix" revival pushes back from May 21, 2021, to April 1, 2022.

If "Tenet" had remained on its assigned date, it would have been the first big-budget studio release in theaters since they shut down in mid-March. The change leaves Walt Disney Co.'s "Mulan" live-action remake, currently scheduled to open July 24, with the task of bringing patrons back to theaters in large numbers.

Analysts had long expected "Tenet's" release to move back, possibly into August. Theater companies, however, insisted that they would be open in time to support the $190-million budgeted picture in July. AMC Theatres this week said it expected almost all of its locations to open by that month.

However, it's unclear whether many moviegoers will be ready to return to multiplexes soon after they open their doors. Additionally, New York City, one of the key markets for any big-budget film, has not yet signaled when theaters might reopen. California recently gave theaters the green light to open Friday, with restrictions, but it's expected to take time for cinema chains to ramp up.

"Over these last months we have been keeping Warner Bros. closely informed of our work towards reopening our theaters in accordance with governmental health and safety requirements, and we are looking forward to audiences enjoying 'Tenet' in our theaters all around the world on July 31," said the National Assn. of Theatre Owners in a statement.

While "Tenet" would have been the first blockbuster to enter the uncertain marketplace, a handful of smaller titles will be testing the waters in a few weeks. "Unhinged," a thriller starring Russell Crowe and the first release from indie distributor Solstice Studios, has set a new nationwide opening date of July 10. And earlier this week, Sony announced the acquisition of teen romance "The Broken Hearts Gallery," with plans for a nationwide opening also on July 10.

Meanwhile, Disney announced today that the planned August theatrical release of the family title "The One and Only Ivan" has been scrapped. The film will instead premiere on streaming service Disney+.