Movie Release Schedules Are Facing Chaos as the Pandemic Rages

John David Washington and Elizabeth Debicki star in director Christopher Nolan's "Tenet." (Warner Bros.)

Maybe you live in a town where the local movie theater has reopened. Perhaps you've noticed that they're mostly showing old films. That's because the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has made it impossible to reopen theaters in the biggest markets around the country.

If studios can't show a new release in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, San Francisco or Atlanta, the decision so far has been to keep big movies like the new James Bond, Marvel's "Black Widow," the Fast & Furious movie "F9" and "Wonder Woman: 1984" in reserve until the situation improves.

It's four months into the pandemic, and the situation is not improving. The NBA and MLB are going to try to play games, but they won't be allowing fans into arenas or stadiums. College football is facing some tough decisions over the next couple of weeks, and NFL players are starting to question the league's lack of a safety plan as training camps are set to open.

Now filmmakers and movie studios are also facing a tough reality: European and Asian economies have begun to emerge from their coronavirus shutdowns and movie theaters there are starting to reopen. But the U.S. is still having major problems.

Filmmaker Christopher Nolan has been determined to release his espionage sci-fi thriller "Tenet" in theaters this summer, holding on to his original July 17 worldwide release date as long as possible before moving it to July 31 and then August 12. Yesterday, the studio finally pulled the movie from its release schedule.

"We will share a new 2020 release date imminently for 'Tenet,' Christopher Nolan's wholly original and mind-blowing feature," said Warner Bros. chairman Toby Emmerich in a press release. "Our goals throughout this process have been to ensure the highest odds of success for our films while also being ready to support our theater partners with new content as soon as they could safely reopen."

Here's the bombshell: "We are not treating 'Tenet' like a traditional global day-and-date release, and our upcoming marketing and distribution plans will reflect that," Emmerich said.

And the reality sinks in. Nolan has been notoriously secretive about the plot of "Tenet" and it looks to be another one of his trippy films that play with concepts of time and space. If "Tenet" opens first in Europe and Asia, details will be all over the internet and American audiences won't get a chance to experience the movie's surprises in the way Nolan intended.

Movie companies have seen massive reductions in revenue and, if the rest of the world is open for business, they can't really wait for the United States to catch up before they try to get their businesses back on track.

The James Bond movie "No Time to Die" as well as "Wonder Woman: 1984" seem likely to open in Europe and Asia this fall even if American theaters in major cities have yet to reopen. We may be seeing a new era in which the United States loses its influence as the world's #1 entertainment market.

We're now six months from the rescheduled release date for "Top Gun: Maverick." We're not likely to have mass deployment of a vaccine before December and Americans have rejected the mask-wearing and social-distancing measures that other countries have used to control the pandemic.

How are you going to feel if "Top Gun: Maverick" opens in London and Beijing months before we have a chance to see it here in North America? If Canada and Mexico get their acts together, will you cross the border to see a James Bond or Tom Cruise movie or patiently wait until we're able to see it here?

Do you miss the theater experience? What should we do to speed up the release of all those movies gathering dust on a shelf?

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