Released to cinemas as one of the very few blockbusters breaking the pandemic slow-down (and only delayed at the very last moment), Tenet was heralded both as a shot-in-the-arm to the industry and an irresponsible provocation to put audiences in harm's way. No matter what side of the fence you fall on, the film's performance has been hampered by the current global situation, to the degree that it may be considered a box office failure. That's no reflection on the dizzying impact of Nolan's film, of its incredible set-pieces or twisting, gripping narrative at all; it's simply a reflection of the release method that has arguably become more of a talking point than the film itself.
The big question now is how Warner Bros. strategize for Tenet's second life on home release, which is likely to be far bigger than its theatrical release. There are several options, including a premium PPV set-up akin to what Disney+ have done with their live-action Mulan remake and a big question mark over when that second-wave release will come and Nolan fans who chose not to see it in cinemas will be intrigued to find out more details.
What Platform Will Tenet Release On?
Given the pandemic and the strain on the cinema industry, Warner Bros. and Christopher Nolan could have been forgiven for heading straight to VOD. The studio would have made a larger cut of the take, VOD figures would probably have been record-breaking and Tenet could have been offered at two price points (one lowered for the HBO Max release) to help drive subscriptions. But Nolan is fiercely committed to the cinema experience - not least as a "vital part of American social life" - and told IndieWire in 2017 that "If you make a theatrical film, it’s to be played in theaters.” Regardless of that, a digital release will come.
Even though Warner Bros. avoided a premium VOD release through the likes of Apple TV, Amazon Prime TV, Fandango Now and the other partners they released Scoob with before bringing it to HBO Max, there's still the possibility of moving ahead with that model for Tenet. It will be released to HBO Max, and significant Warner Bros. restructuring to focus the business on supplying content to the platform suggests it would be Tenet's home. Whether that comes after an initial second-wave VOD release remains to be seen.
When Will Tenet Release At Home?
Given the fact that a survey revealed by Variety suggested film fans are keen to watch Tenet at home, there may be an impasse. This is an unprecedented situation and release model and with Warner Bros. claiming they're happy to wait and see numbers and the film's box office slowly ticking along, it seems Tenet may be in cinemas for a good while before hitting home release. That part of the situation is likely to be updated as and when the studio start to see a different response in ticket sales, but it will be about finding the right balance before releasing it to what will likely be an even bigger audience.