Christopher Nolan’s ‘Tenet’ Won’t be Heading to HBO Max or VOD First, AT&T Says

Christopher Nolan’s ‘Tenet’ Won’t be Heading to HBO Max or VOD First, AT&T Says

Sorry, but you will have to wait to see this blockbuster in the movies, someday. 


In all of the uncertainty about the coronavirus pandemic and what it means for movies, no movie has faced more uncertainty than “Tenet,” the newest film from Christopher Nolan, the acclaimed director “Batman Begins,” “The Dark Knight,” “Inception” and “Interstellar.”

“Tenet,” a spy film with a mysterious plot and a cast that includes Robert Pattinson, John David Washington, Elizabeth Debicki and Michael Caine, had originally been set to debut in theaters on July 17. The coronavirus and its resulting closure of most movie theaters led to repeated delays for “Tenet,” first to July 31 and then to August 12, until last week it was delayed indefinitely.


Many of the films that were scheduled for theatrical release so far this year have been moved to premium video on demand releases. Others, such as the planned 2021 release “Hamilton,” have had their releases switched to streaming services owned by the same company that owns the studio. Others, such as “Greyhound,” have been sold by their studios to streaming services, as that Tom Hanks film debuted on Apple TV+. Some other movies, in combination with streaming and VOD releases, have been shown in drive-in theaters around the country. Still more films, including most blockbusters, have been delayed to 2021.

“Tenet” hasn’t gone any of those routes, for a simple reason: Nolan, a staunch supporter of theatrical exhibition, has insisted both that “Tenet” receive a theatrical release, and that it be a part of the return of movie theaters.

After AT&T announced its second-quarter earnings on Thursday, CEO John Stankey was asked on the quarterly earnings call about “Tenet,” and whether it might debut on HBO Max instead of in theaters.

“I love the fact that we have that option now. I love the reality that we’ve been able to build a platform that we can get leverage and capabilities out of any content we build, theatrical or otherwise, and pick the platform and where we go with it,” Stankey said, per a Seeking Alpha transcript. “Is it going to happen on a movie like Tenet or something like Wonder Woman? I’d be very surprised if that would be the case. In fact, I can assure you on Tenet, that’s not going to be the case.”

So when will we see “Tenet”? Steven Zeitchik of The Washington Post tweeted this week that “The latest working dates within Warner Bros for Tenet, I’m hearing, is Aug 26 overseas and Labor Day weekend in the U.S.,” while he cautioned that it’s unclear if indoor theater conditions will be any safer in August- or, for that matter, in November and December- than they are today.

The other big blockbuster set for a release in August, Disney’s “Mulan,” was delayed indefinitely Thursday, as were future “Star Wars” and “Avatar” releases, Disney announced.

In all likelihood, you will indeed have a chance to see “Tenet” in the theater. But it probably won’t be for a while.

Stephen Silver, a technology writer for The National Interest, is a journalist, essayist and film critic, who is also a contributor to Philly Voice, Philadelphia Weekly, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Living Life Fearless, Backstage magazine, Broad Street Review and Splice Today. The co-founder of the Philadelphia Film Critics Circle, Stephen lives in suburban Philadelphia with his wife and two sons. Follow him on Twitter at @StephenSilver.