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'Tenet' will open internationally in late August before U.S. debut in select cities

Christopher Nolan's high-concept thriller is widely seen as a bellwether for the pandemic-stricken film business and revenue-starved movie theaters.
John David Washington and Robert Pattinson in "Tenet," a Warner Bros. Pictures release.
John David Washington and Robert Pattinson in "Tenet," a Warner Bros. Pictures release.Melinda Sue Gordon / Warner Bros.

"Tenet," a mind-bending espionage film that has been repeatedly delayed amid the coronavirus pandemic, will open internationally in late August before debuting in select U.S. cities over Labor Day weekend, Warner Bros. announced Monday.

The domestic release of Christopher Nolan's big-budget film has become almost as twisty as one of the director's scripts. The movie, starring John David Washington ("BlacKkKlansman"), was originally set to premiere July 17 before it was pushed to July 31 and then bumped to Aug. 12.

"Tenet" is widely seen as a bellwether for Hollywood's major studios and movie theater chains as they try to lure audiences back to cinemas after months of closures. The recent surges in coronavirus infections have raised questions about whether a critical mass of theaters can even reopen this fall.

The film will debut in 70 countries — including Australia, Canada, France, Japan and the United Kingdom — on Aug. 26, a Warner Bros. spokesperson said in a statement.

The spokesperson did not specify exactly where the film would launch over Labor Day weekend in the U.S., leaving open the possibility it might not premiere in crucial moviegoing markets like Los Angeles and New York.

The plot details of "Tenet" have been kept under wraps, but trailers (and the internet rumor mill) suggest the storyline concerns an operative (Washington) who gets entangled in a complex, time-warping effort to stave off World War III.

The news about the film's new release dates comes just days after Walt Disney Studios said it would indefinitely delay the U.S. premiere of "Mulan," another marquee production that had been gearing up for a high-profile summertime release before the coronavirus outbreak.

"Mulan," a live-action remake of the beloved 1998 animated film, was originally scheduled to debut on March 27 before it was moved to July 24 and then pushed to Aug. 21.

The leading studios — most significantly Disney, Warner Bros. and Universal Pictures — rely on robust box-office grosses to turn a profit on expensive projects. "Mulan" and "Tenet" each cost roughly $200 million to produce, according to widely reported estimates. (Universal is a unit of NBCUniversal, the parent company of NBC News.)

Nolan, the director of the blockbuster Dark Knight trilogy and "Inception," is among a select group of directors working today whose commercial track record gives him the latitude to make high-concept blockbusters based on original concepts — rather than pre-existing franchises.