The future of movie theaters could be in Christopher Nolan’s hands. As IndieWire reported last week, Warner Bros. is sticking with its July 17 opening for Nolan’s “Tenet” and will release the action tentpole as planned if movie theaters across the country are re-opened. John Fithian, CEO of the National Association of Theatre Owners, told Variety in a new interview the plan is to have major chains such as AMC and Cinemark up and running by mid July for the openings of “Tenet” and “Mulan” (July 24), as long as it’s safe to do so based on government and CDC guidelines. NATO is in the midst of planning safety measures and guidelines for theaters to use to keep workers and moviegoers safe.
“We’ve put together a task force of our members, as well as experts on health and safety and supply chains,” Fithian said. “We’re planning for how we open up our seating so we can adhere to strict social distancing guidelines. We’re encouraging companies to lean in on reserved ticketing and to train their staff to prevent congestion in the lobbies. Members are staggering showtimes so everyone isn’t arriving at the multiplex at the same time. We are considering innovative ways to sell concessions in order to reduce human contact. And we’re making sure that employees stay home if they feel sick.”
Should theaters be able to open in July, Nolan’s “Tenet” and Niki Caro’s “Mulan” would be the only major releases out of the gate and would therefore be able to play in multiple theaters in a single multiplex. The ability to play on several screens in one location will help ensure moviegoers adhere to social distancing. Much of the release calendar has been cleared, giving “Tenet” and “Mulan” the chance to play in theaters without competition for a longer period of time. Fithian said he’s not predicting either tentpole has a massive opening, but the new landscape and great word-of-mouth could yield strong box office returns.
“Our members are motivated to make sure that these films do as well as possible,” Fithian said. “We feel like Disney and Warner are demonstrating their belief in the theatrical model by doing this, so we’re going to go the extra mile. I think that traditional windowing will make sense for these movies. They will play a lot longer in theaters than they would have a year ago. They won’t open to the kind of numbers they would have a year ago, but there’s going to be tremendous word-of-mouth. People are going to love ‘Tenet’ and share that on social media.”
Fithian continued, “People are also going to talk about how impressed they are with how seriously theaters are taking their responsibility to provide a safe environment. These films will also have staying power because people will be so sick of being stuck in their houses that they’re going to flood to cinemas.”
IndieWire’s box office expert Tom Brueggemann said as much last week, saying being the first movie out of the gate would allow “Tenet” to “play on virtually every screen in the country.” Nolan’s tentpole remains set for July 17.