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Can San Francisco’s Movie Theater Decision Sink the July 17 Opening of ‘Tenet’?

San Francisco represents a tiny portion of domestic theaters, but the city's decision could have a big impact on Christopher Nolan's movie.

"Tenet"

“Tenet”

Warner Bros.

San Francisco Mayor London Breed Thursday announced that the city’s stage-three reopening, which includes cinemas, is tentatively set for mid-August. That, of course, is a month later than the scheduled release of the first two major studio films, “Tenet” (Warner Bros.) on July 17 and “Mulan” (Disney) on July 24.

Is this a major blow for the chances that these two films will open nationally and worldwide? By itself — no. But in the larger context, possibly.

The plan affects only those theaters within the boundaries of the city of San Francisco, which accounts for about 900,000 people in a metropolitan area of about 4.8 million. For a normal, first-run wide release, that would mean just five theaters out of about 4,000 in North America. Even as top-grossing locations, they’re still small in terms of the total gross. For “Dunkirk,” which made over $50 million in its opening weekend, these theaters contributed less than $400,000.

However, the city of San Francisco most closely resembles, in its population density and high theater capacity, is New York (population: seven million). That city is already expected to lag in reopening behind most of the country, and this precedent could encourage it to follow suit. If that happens, that might be decisive.

Less clear is the impact on Los Angeles, both city (four million people) and county (10 million, including the city). These have mostly acted in unison (with the county positioned as ultimate authority below state level). So far, Los Angeles has opened up a little ahead of San Francisco — though not as quickly as the rest of the country.

Warner Bros. is seven weeks away from the scheduled date for “Tenet.” If the film isn’t going to open, the announcement can’t be delayed much longer; logistics make that impossible. Assume the studio is consulting with local officials to get the best reading; if both New York and Los Angeles County can’t confirm readiness, the decision is more likely to delay. Even New York alone might be enough to change plans.

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