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As More Movie Theaters Open, We Ponder How the Rest of 2020 Will Play Out

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Tenet is now in (a few) theaters.
Tenet is now in (a few) theaters.
Photo: Warner Bros.

Slowly but surely, movies and movie theaters are coming back. A few weeks ago, Disney released The New Mutants. Last weekend, Warner Bros. opened Christopher Nolan’s Tenet. In less than a month, if all goes according to plan, Wonder Woman 1984 will be in theaters. And yet, as these theaters and movies open, nothing feels even close to normal.

Tenet currently has the dubious honor of being the biggest domestic box office opening since the start of a global pandemic, grossing just over $20 million in the U.S. and Canada over the Labor Day weekend. Whether you think that number is good, bad, or in the middle, it’s a start. We now have a bar against which we can measure how people are feeling about going to the movies.


Though box office grosses rarely go up after an opening weekend, this climate is an occasion where that could definitely happen. This coming weekend, more theaters are likely to re-open, giving Tenet more screens to play on. Southern California’s Orange County, which neighbors Los Angeles, just announced it will allow theaters to open in the coming days, making access to Nolan’s latest easier for millions of moviegoers. But will people show up?

The theater industry sure wants you to. Tuesday, the National Association of Theatre Owners shared with press a link to a video that’ll soon be playing in theaters, touting all the new safety precautions: required masks, lower capacity, upgraded ventilation, more cleaning, etc. It all makes sense. What doesn’t make sense is the part in the video where the socially distanced, masked family eats popcorn through their masks. Theaters don’t want to acknowledge it but of course masks are coming off for people to eat and drink the concessions theaters make most of their money on. And almost certainly no one will be standing in the theater to make sure they go back on.


You’d hope most people would be considerate and put their masks back on. And, ideally, none of those people would be sick anyway. But theaters can’t be sure. They aren’t testing. It’s doubtful they’re checking, enforcing, or ejecting. And without a vaccine for covid-19, going to a movie theater and sitting with people you don’t know in an enclosed environment is a risk. A small risk? Probably. But is the small risk that you could get sick—or get your family and others you may come into contact with sick—worth it to see a movie? That’s up to you.

And maybe it’s not worth it for New Mutants or for Tenet. Maybe it will be for Wonder Woman 1984, Black Widow, or No Time to Die, all of which are scheduled to be released in the coming months. It’s a personal choice movie fans everywhere will have to make, especially as more and more theaters open. As for the industry, Hollywood may very well base its own choices on Tenet’s $20 million opening weekend. If that box office number goes down significantly in the coming weeks, there’s a good chance studios might have to put a pin in some of those upcoming titles again. If it goes up, though, expect the schedule to proceed as planned.

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