Cinemas the world over are taking their first cautious steps towards reopening, and studios are gearing up to finally release their biggest films after months of delay. Unfortunately, it seems that Christopher Nolan’s Tenet, the film that Hollywood was banking on more than any other to bring audiences back to theaters, might not be allowed to run in China, on account of its runtime being too long.
According to reports, while theaters will reopen in China from July 20, the government wants to limit the amount of time audiences spend in auditoriums. To that end, only films that are two hours or less in total runtime will be allowed to screen for the time being.
This means Tenet’s total runtime of 150 minutes is a half-hour longer than what China will allow. The film was gearing up for a triumphant worldwide release on August 12, but it is likely China’s new rule will give Warner Bros. pause, and prompt them to reconsider their strategy. At an official runtime of 149 minutes and 59 seconds, Tenet is shorter than Christopher Nolan’s 2014 sci-fi thriller Interstellar, which clocked in at 169 minutes. Both 2012’s The Dark Knight Rises and 2008’s The Dark Knight are also longer. They run 165 minutes and 152 minutes, respectively. And Inception, which is celebrating its 10th anniversary of release, clocks in at one minute longer than Tenet.
The lucrative Chinese box office can often make or break a Hollywood film, which is why more and more movies are incorporating Chinese actors and locations to broaden their appeal in that region of the world. Christopher Nolan’s previous films have been immensely popular there as well. With Tenet reportedly needing to gross more than $800 million just to break even, it needs all the help the Chinese box office can give, especially with other theater chains in the world still far from fully open.
So what options are open to Tenet at this point? Nolan is a well-known purist when it comes to the way he wants his movies to be experienced, which means it is very unlikely he will entertain any suggestions to cut down the runtime of his film by half an hour to adjust to China’s rule. Releasing the movie at a later date in China will mean there will inevitably be bootleg copies flooding the Chinese internet, which in turn means fewer people will be willing to risk a trip to the theater to watch the same film.
At this point, the safest bet seems to be to yet again postpone the global release of Tenet altogether, something which was already on the cards due to many freshly-opened theaters chains closing down once again in response to a rise in infections.
For now, China is focussing on re-releasing older films to gauge audience interest in coming back to theatres. On the Hollywood front, Dolittle, Bloodshot, and 1917 are slated to hit Chinese theaters from July 24 onwards. All the films have been trimmed to ensure they clock in at a runtime of fewer than two hours following the government’s ruling.
Tenet stars John David Washington, Robert Pattinson, Elizabeth Debicki, Kenneth Branaugh, Dimple Kapadia, Martin Donovan, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Himesh Patel, Clémence Poésy, Denzil Smith and Michael Caine. Provided things go as planned, the movie is set for a theatrical release on Aug. 12. This news comes from IndieWire.