The Last Picture Show?
September 15, 2020 5:20 AM   Subscribe

David Sims examines the failure of the one theatrical blockbuster this summer and what it means for the future of movie going:
Christopher Nolan’s Tenet was supposed to be a boon for movie theaters, a light in the darkness after the coronavirus pandemic shut down cinemas for months. Here was an original film from a beloved director, one of the biggest titles of our postponed summer-movie season—surely this would be enough to lure people back to the big screen. Around the world, that’s proven largely true: Over three weeks, Tenet has made more than $207 million globally, a healthy number given the circumstances. But in the United States, the Warner Bros. film has grossed less than $30 million since August 31—a number so low that it’s scaring other major movies off the release schedule. Now the question isn’t whether theaters can return to normalcy, but whether they can survive this pandemic at all.
posted by octothorpe (72 comments total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
 
Who wants to be in a business where the better your numbers, the more people you've likely killed?

Tenet could have made hundreds of millions in the US if they streamed it for $20 a household. But I assume the theater owners would have cried foul, which is understandable. Still: Global box office revenue hit a record $42.5 billion in 2019. Isn't there some money left in the Hollywood coffers to create some sort of movie theater Marshall Plan that would let them recover by, say, next spring?
posted by gwint at 5:38 AM on September 15 [23 favorites]


Per the article, Mulan only made about $33M over the labor day weekend so I don't know how Tenet could have made hundreds of millions.
posted by octothorpe at 5:40 AM on September 15 [7 favorites]


Related - and possibly shedding some light on this - here is an essay by the Washington Post's movie critic, in which she states that the distributor required movie critics to attend an advance screening in order to write a review, like normal. She, and other critics, asked if there could be some way to stream it instead - other new releases have done this - but the distributor said no.

So, my hunch is that among the reasons Tenet hasn't drawn the crowds - behind the obvious "there's a god-damn pandemic and no one is ready to go sit in a movie theater yet are you kidding me" - is that there simply aren't as many reviews out, so no one knows it's in theaters.

All of which can be laid at the feet of the distributor, who is acting like everything is situation normal.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:47 AM on September 15 [27 favorites]


I think they charged too much for Mulan ($30 above an existing Disney+ subscription!) and it looks like it wasn't the hit they were hoping for as evidenced in other countries (i.e. the disappointing opening in China) but my thesis is just that if you have a film that would have been a hit in the theaters, it'll be a hit streaming.
posted by gwint at 5:47 AM on September 15 [4 favorites]


$20 just isn't the right price point for a single home viewing. You plump down 15 or more a seat to go to the theater because it's part of a night out or a date or it's 100 outside and you don't have central air. I am not short on cash and I love movies but the $20 price for these new releases is just too much to swallow especially since I don't have a child begging to watch trolls world tour or whatever.
posted by dis_integration at 5:57 AM on September 15 [22 favorites]


Beyond that, Mulan had some serious headwinds - the support of the CCP takeover of Hong Kong by the leads turned the release into a political hot potato in the West, while criticism of how the story itself was handled undermined it in China - and then there's the fact that Disney's live action movies have developed a negative reputation as a group. It's not surprising that it struggled - and very likely would have in non-pandemic theaters.
posted by NoxAeternum at 5:58 AM on September 15 [3 favorites]


I mean, I just, I've got an eight foot projection screen, a great sound system, you know, and while there's probably three grand in it in gear, that's money that's been spent over decades and never goes bad (my speakers were bought in the 80s frex) and I can push pause and have a pee or make popcorn for ten cents in ingredients, and as an extra bonus not contract a deadly disease or spread it to my family and it's like, wow, even if I just had the 21" CRT/NTSC colour screen with a clicky channel knob of my youth I still wouldn't be going to a fucking movie theatre literally how fucking stupid do you have to be to double down on "let's get 300 people to sit in a small room and share aerosolized viral particles for two hours just to watch something they could just as easily watch safely at home."

I guess we know just how fucking stupid, though! TIL the new nadir for intelligence is movie distributors.
posted by seanmpuckett at 5:59 AM on September 15 [56 favorites]


Per the article, Mulan only made about $33M over the labor day weekend so I don't know how Tenet could have made hundreds of millions.

Tenet's hundreds of millions is its global take since it opened, which was weeks ago.
posted by biffa at 6:02 AM on September 15


Biffa, Octothorpe was responding to Gwint's comment that Tenet could have made hundreds of millions in the US.
posted by Pendragon at 6:12 AM on September 15


Even if I went to a movie theater, I'd be wearing a mask the whole time, literally from the time I got out of my car to when I got back in it, so there goes the profit margin that the theater chains make off their overpriced junk food.
posted by Halloween Jack at 6:20 AM on September 15 [20 favorites]


I know people who are taking all kinds of risks, but I don't know a single person who is interested in sitting in a movie theater right now. Maybe the same people who enjoyed going to Trump's indoor rally would be interested? But pretty much everyone else is going to say "no thanks" right now.

I mean, I just went to the dentist after putting it off for months and months, and with all their precautions it felt like visiting one of those virus labs where the evil scientists create killer diseases in movies, but with me as the specimen. We are a long way from indoor movies and indoor live theater being back to normal.

I obviously hope that the theater business (both movies and live) survives, but barring some sudden breakthrough that is probably going to take a targeted government bailout rather than quickly getting butts back in seats.

$20 just isn't the right price point for a single home viewing.

I agree, if you are watching by yourself. But if you were having family movie night (i.e., parent(s) + kids, or chosen family of roommates and friends, or whatever), then the cost per person of a $20 or $30 streaming fee seems just fine, and way cheaper than a trip to the regular theater.
posted by Dip Flash at 6:26 AM on September 15 [14 favorites]


Tenet could have made hundreds of millions in the US if they streamed it for $20 a household. But I assume the theater owners would have cried foul, which is understandable.

it was pretty important to Nolan too that this go to actual theaters:
I think of all the films that I’ve made, this is perhaps the one that is most designed for the audience experience, the big screen experience. This is a film whose image and sound really needs to be enjoyed in your theaters on the big screen and we’re very very excited for you to see what it is we’ve done. We’ve made big films in the past, but this is a film whose global reach and level of action is beyond anything we’ve ever attempted before.
posted by paper chromatographologist at 6:28 AM on September 15 [2 favorites]


Who wants to be in a business where the better your numbers, the more people you've likely killed?

Probably not actually a lot of people who legit don't care, in absolute numbers...but enough! Plus a lot more who would be very genuinely angry at implying that's what better numbers mean, of course they don't want that how dare you kind of dudgeon. But they have chains of nested rationalizations that strain at supporting better numbers don't mean that at all.
posted by Drastic at 6:33 AM on September 15 [1 favorite]


This really shows how horribly behind in the fight against covid-19 the US is as compared to other countries given that Tenet has made $200M outside of the US so far.
posted by octothorpe at 6:33 AM on September 15 [15 favorites]


From this similar Tenet: Uh Oh article:
This leaves theaters in dire straits. This weekend, the average complex grossed under $5,000 (before concessions). More than half of that goes to film rentals. They have staff and other operational costs to pay, as well as rent to landlords. Theaters have a stronger hand in negotiating rent if they’re closed. Once open, they owe, and now they face weeks of operation at a significant loss.
In many cases, not only did the Tenet gamble show how fraught (US) movie theaters are, the ones that did open for it are now worse off than the ones who stayed closed. There's a whole deeper dive possible here where this kind of thing is Exhibit Lost Count of how very fragile so much economic activity really is when faced with actual non-buzzword disruption.
posted by Drastic at 6:36 AM on September 15 [18 favorites]


The writing was on the wall when AMC and Universal reached an agreement to shrink the theatrical window from 3 months to 17 days (three weekends.) Who's going to pay to see a movie in a theater when you can rent it in a couple of weeks?

I mean, I still will, I love going to the movies, but will there be any movie theaters left for me to go to?
posted by Automocar at 6:41 AM on September 15 [1 favorite]


We're going to see it this weekend at a pop-up drive-in. But you couldn't pay me to sit in a theater.

Why aren't more theaters doing this? Granted, they'd have to rent/buy equipment, but most theaters already have huge parking lots and they could sell concessions for their usual cash cow. It wouldn't work when the weather gets colder, but they wouldn't have lost an entire Summer.
posted by Eddie Mars at 6:48 AM on September 15 [10 favorites]


Who's going to pay to see a movie in a theater when you can rent it in a couple of weeks?

Theaters are going to have to embrace new models now that their primary one (you have to come here to see $BIGNEWFILM first) is slowly dying (which it had been for some time - the pandemic just accelerated trends that already existed.) There are a number of "destination" models that theaters can (and have) use - the old "road show" model and the Alamo Drafthouse setup (which AMC has experimented with) show paths to viability once the pandemic is over.
posted by NoxAeternum at 6:56 AM on September 15 [3 favorites]


Who's going to pay to see a movie in a theater when you can rent it in a couple of weeks?

If it weren't for COVID, that would rarely play a role in my decision to see something in a theatre. I rarely went to the movies because there was a new movie I just had to see. Far, far more common was me saying to a friend "Hey, you wanna go to the movies?" and then us looking to see what was playing.
posted by jacquilynne at 6:58 AM on September 15 [17 favorites]


weren't the road shows in the US a response to television?
posted by eustatic at 6:58 AM on September 15


weren't the road shows in the US a response to television?

They were more a form of marketing/focus testing - before a movie went into general distribution, a limited time road show distribution was done, and was treated as an event. You see something similar in concept with the Japanese movie theater industry today as well.
posted by NoxAeternum at 7:08 AM on September 15 [1 favorite]


The Drafthouses look open but they're not kidding around with their safety requirements - and even then, with ticket-sale-enforced distancing and organized exiting and all the sanitizing, you couldn't pay me to go see a movie there right now.
posted by restless_nomad at 7:30 AM on September 15 [2 favorites]


the failure of this movie and the broader failure of movie theaters is deeply heartening. despite all the bar-going risktakers and clueless restaurant-goers, despite how visible those people are, more of us are taking covid seriously than not.

the death of every movie theater in america in exchange for a quicker end to covid is a fantastic deal. we should take that deal.
posted by Reclusive Novelist Thomas Pynchon at 7:40 AM on September 15 [12 favorites]


But if you were having family movie night (i.e., parent(s) + kids, or chosen family of roommates and friends, or whatever), then the cost per person of a $20 or $30 streaming fee seems just fine, and way cheaper than a trip to the regular theater.

I don't think this is about the value but the psychological barrier of paying $20 on top of a monthly subscription.

People yowl and complain every time Netflix raises prices despite the fact that it's way cheaper than a trip to the theater and the obvious costs of developing its original programming plus licensing when all the original content producers are now eyeing their own subscription services or playing services off one another.

Logically a $20 fee may not be a biggie. But I'm not sure people are doing the math rather than just recoiling at the sticker shock for a $20 digital time-limited rental.

Also, though I'm glad for this, I think Disney screwed up by not starting this with Hamilton. I didn't have the expectation of seeing it on streaming for free, they could have eased people into this with Hamilton and gotten more traction. I know my family would have jumped at it.
posted by jzb at 7:42 AM on September 15 [6 favorites]


Why aren't more theaters doing this? Granted, they'd have to rent/buy equipment,

As someone who actually provides & operates the gear for pop-up outdoor movie things, my bet is:

1) the gear is not cheap to rent or buy - very much including the necessary equipment & skilled labor to set it up safely. (Most of our clients for this are universities who have a dedicated budget for student entertainment, they're not trying to actually turn a profit.) You really don't want a big 40 foot by 20 foot screen acting as a huge sail and toppling over in a gust of wind. Also, setting this kind of thing up often requires permits and inspections from city/county officials, and those can be hard to come by these days because nobody's in the office.

2) The FCC. How do you get sound to folks in their cars? The obvious answer is "FM radio broadcast", but everything except very low power transmitters needs to be licensed and approved by the FCC, and they are apparently still keeping a close eye out for illegal broadcasts. (It's a big topic of discussion online in the pro audio world.) Existing drive-in theaters already had the licenses, so they were fine, and the general consensus seems to be that transmitters low power enough to remain clear of the FCC rules will carry maybe 300 feet. Which is probably not far enough to make it worth the theater's while.
posted by soundguy99 at 7:51 AM on September 15 [23 favorites]


Mulan's funadmental problem is that it (apparently) just isn't that good. Even by the "every remake is worse than the original" trend Diney has been seeing---by IMDB (reddit), by reviews.org---Mulan is stinking up the joint.

Unfortunately Disney has been making money of these things, even despite the quality drop-off, see the reviews.org link above, but perhaps Mulan is the one that finally kills this laziness.
posted by bonehead at 7:51 AM on September 15 [1 favorite]


One of the reasons movie distributors have been hesitant to move to home streaming is that home streaming is charged by the display rather than by the person. If I get together with three of my friends to go watch Tenet in the theater, that's $60 in revenue. Warner Brothers is understandably hesitant to sell us almost the same experience at home for $20.

On the other hand, if it's just me and I want to see the movie but don't want to go out to the theater, charging me $20 is better than the $0 that they've gotten from me so far.

About ten years ago, somebody (Microsoft?) got a patent on a system - never implemented - that would allow charging for movies and other PPV events based on the number of people in the room, measured by a camera on the playback device. While a privacy nightmare, it would solve this problem. Friendless misanthropes could watch the movie at home for $10, while large groups of people couldn't split the cost.

The same issue comes up with boxing, UFC, and other big PPV events. I'm interested enough that I might pay $10 for a fight. But I don't have a dozen friends who might want to go in with me on the $100 PPV fee, and I don't want to go pay the $40 cover charge at a bar that's showing it. The end result is that I pay $0 and don't watch the fight.
posted by Hatashran at 8:24 AM on September 15 [2 favorites]


I love going to the movies, but will there be any movie theaters left for me to go to?

I honestly did not think that Tenet had been released in the US except possibly in a couple of theaters to show that it had a "release". I'm pretty much its target audience, but was under the impression it was only showing in other countries currently. Not that I would have gone to see it if they were open ....

AFAIK, there are not any indoor movie theaters open where I live currently. We do have three long-established Drive-Ins, that have been showing classic films all summer and which have been consistently sold out all spring and summer (and into fall; I imagine they'll continue to stay open until it snows). I just checked the one closest to me, and they've not shown any new release films all summer. Presumably because the Drive In experience is different than an indoor theater.

Still.
posted by anastasiav at 8:26 AM on September 15 [1 favorite]


I don't think this is about the value but the psychological barrier of paying $20 on top of a monthly subscription.

I'm definitely in that same choir. Chorus: even though in absolute terms, twenty-to-thirty bucks a single time isn't that much compared to the ongoing cost of a subscription, it's a psychological price point.

Now I don't know what sort of market research and modeling went into the choice. Mine is only gluteally-sourced! But I really think they could have done better if instead it was ten dollars instead of twenty-plus. Again, objectively not that much of a difference (and again gluteally sourced, but I have to imagine that's what boards were thinking: it's not that much of a difference, and more is more so obviously charge the not-much-different more!), but it feels different putting down a ten instead of a twenty and change.
posted by Drastic at 8:28 AM on September 15


> About ten years ago, somebody (Microsoft?) got a patent on a system - never implemented - that would allow charging for movies and other PPV events based on the number of people in the room, measured by a camera on the playback device. While a privacy nightmare, it would solve this problem. Friendless misanthropes could watch the movie at home for $10, while large groups of people couldn't split the cost.

yikes.

the existence of this sort of idea, even if it hasn't yet been implemented, is yet another reason that we have a moral obligation to pirate everything we can pirate.
posted by Reclusive Novelist Thomas Pynchon at 8:35 AM on September 15 [12 favorites]


it was pretty important to Nolan too that this go to actual theaters:

I get it, I guess. I watched Dunkirk recently on my laptop and so much of that movie just didn't resonate in such reduced circumstances. Yet I could see how big picture and big sound might have made for a profoundly immersive experience. But as others have commented, this sort of thing can now be achieved at home ... assuming you've got the bucks for the gear. But then seeing such big deal "event" movies in theaters has become an increasingly expensive proposition anyway.

So whatever. If nothing else, this is a business (an entire industry) stuck in a holding pattern. And yeah, there are many players who simply won't survive. And even assuming the most optimistic resolutions of the covid crisis, I don't see that many people being in a hurry to rush back to enclosed, crowded spaces -- certainly not enough to rescue the industry/business as we've come to know it. Whatever the future will be for the mass shared motion picture experience, I doubt it will be the same thing we've grown used to. Which in many respects doesn't bother me at all -- the junk food, the endless pre-feature trailers, ads and related hype, the ever increasing LOUDNESS of things (and not just the soundtracks), the sheer adolescent awfulness of so many of the more successful movies and franchises. Good f***ing riddance.

But all that said, there is a baby I don't want to see going out with the bathwater. And that's what happens when a whole bunch of strangers do settle into a dark space and give themselves -- their hearts, their brains, their souls -- over to a work of art that respects them, that seeks to evoke in them a sense of something that we don't really have words for. If we did, we wouldn't need the art form. Which we really do need, I think, and to share it with strangers, who will end up maybe being maybe less strange to us as a result.

Here's hoping.
posted by philip-random at 8:44 AM on September 15 [7 favorites]


I think of all the films that I’ve made, this is perhaps the one that is most designed for the audience experience, the big screen experience. This is a film whose image and sound really needs to be enjoyed in your theaters on the big screen and we’re very very excited for you to see what it is we’ve done. We’ve made big films in the past, but this is a film whose global reach and level of action is beyond anything we’ve ever attempted before.

I'm sorry, Chris, and I know it was never your intention, but no matter how good your movie is, I don't see how it becomes incumbent on me to put my life at risk to see it. It may be that the best way to experience Jaws is to watch it on a small boat surrounded by hungry sharks, but at some point diminishing returns come into play.
posted by Faint of Butt at 8:46 AM on September 15 [39 favorites]


Even in the alternate timeline where no pandemic ever happened, I still wouldn't be seeing Tenet or any Nolan movie in theaters. Interstellar was very firmly the last time I'll be doing that.

Which is to say, I'm sure he has what seems like good reasons he especially wants people to see this one in a theater, but I can't hear them over the BWAAAAAAAAAAAAAA. Alternate snark, he's just upset over the idea that people get to (eventually) watch his movies where they get to control the volume to set at a non-hearing-loss level, and can turn on subtitles to compensate for his sound-mixing-by-an-alien approach.
posted by Drastic at 8:51 AM on September 15 [17 favorites]


Tenet is frankly a bit of a trainwreck. I don't know how someone as detail oriented as Christopher Nolan could release it with such a terrible sound mix. It's a $200 million movie that has made its production budget back, so Warner Brothers won't lose their shirts over it. I think it probably would have done really well in a non-coronavirus America.

Mulan also cost $200 million. It is the first of the Disney live-action remakes of legacy animated features that doesn't feel like a complete waste of time and resources. That's because it's basically a Disney-fied wuxia movie. It looks great, but otherwise it's aggressively mediocre.

The real moral of the story is that there's no reason to bet $200 million on a movie.

I think once there's a vaccine, people will come back to theaters. It might be slowly at first, but somebody's tentpole will break through. if I was sitting on Wonder Woman 1984 right now, I'd hold it back until the epidemiological coast was clear.
posted by vibrotronica at 8:55 AM on September 15 [2 favorites]


Also, go to the drive-in. We have a great one were I live, and it's a great time. I'm planning on going this weekend.
posted by vibrotronica at 8:57 AM on September 15 [4 favorites]


It may be that the best way to experience Jaws is to watch it on a small boat surrounded by hungry sharks, but at some point diminishing returns come into play.

Apparently, the most popular movie on the International Space Space is Alien.
posted by vibrotronica at 8:58 AM on September 15 [13 favorites]


he's just upset over the idea that people get to (eventually) watch his movies where they get to control

Nolan reveres Stanley Kubrick, so he comes by this desire to control the experience honestly.

A Message From Stanley Kubrick To Projectionists Showing His Films.
posted by philip-random at 8:59 AM on September 15 [3 favorites]


Mulan's funadmental problem is that it (apparently) just isn't that good.

I have seen five seconds of this movie, glimpsed on a television in the upper corner of a pizza place several months ago, and it looked exactly, 100% like literally every other big budget wuxia movie ever made. When someone said it was Mulan, I was a little surprised, but man I am never going to watch it. Not ever. Why should I, I've already seen it several times.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 9:16 AM on September 15 [1 favorite]


We have to do a real lockdown. This is all as insane as debating why people weren't hanging around the deck of the Titanic to listen to the band.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 9:19 AM on September 15 [17 favorites]


This is literally the first time I heard of this movie’s existence.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 9:34 AM on September 15 [6 favorites]


About ten years ago, somebody (Microsoft?) got a patent on a system - never implemented - that would allow charging for movies and other PPV events based on the number of people in the room, measured by a camera on the playback device. While a privacy nightmare, it would solve this problem. Friendless misanthropes could watch the movie at home for $10, while large groups of people couldn't split the cost.

Remember that originally XBox One required an always-on internet connection and an always-on Kinect, both of those things were toggled off after public outcry.
posted by Halloween Jack at 9:37 AM on September 15 [13 favorites]


They'd double their money if they just offered to show Tenet in reverse after each showing.
posted by Catblack at 9:47 AM on September 15 [8 favorites]


Even before the shutdown I only went to the theater once or twice a year (with family at Christmas and maybe one other time if something really interests me). It's just rarely worth the cost. I did buy Bill & Ted 3 the other day (totally worth it by the way) but most of the time I don't care enough to go through the hassle. Tenet seems fine but I haven't liked Nolan's recent movies as much as his early stuff. Mulan I had no interest in and based on the reviews I'm not missing much anyway. I don't know what theaters need to do but they were dying before people stopped going out. This is just another nail in the coffin.
posted by downtohisturtles at 10:07 AM on September 15 [1 favorite]


I imagine that Hollywood execs saw the number of Americans who claimed to want to go out in public, and thought they'd still have big numbers.

Turns out even the anti-mask, "covid is a hoax" folks are only going out if they can be seen in public for political stunts. Actual risk, only to not even be seen? No thanks! Who'd have thought?!
posted by explosion at 10:12 AM on September 15 [5 favorites]


We have to do a real lockdown.

Does anyone think this is even a remote possibility?
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 10:13 AM on September 15 [3 favorites]


I imagine that Hollywood execs saw the number of Americans who claimed to want to go out in public, and thought they'd still have big numbers.

I'm pretty damn sure that a lot of it is theater owners (individuals or chains) thinking, "Holy Fuck, maybe some income is better than none, because we're definitely not getting the government assistance we need to stay afloat as a company until it's reasonably safe for the audience to return." (See also - restaurants, bars, clubs, live theaters, wedding venues, concert halls, any business where "have a bunch of people in one place at one time" is their core operation.)
posted by soundguy99 at 10:34 AM on September 15 [4 favorites]


Nolan was being stubborn about the theatrical release because he stood to make an obscene amount of money from first-run theatrical showings of Tenet. The movie theatre business model, like so many, has been broken for a while now. I'm hopeful that once the dust settles from the death of the big chains there may be room again for local indie theatres to thrive again, although that feels unreasonably optimistic for 2020
posted by aiglet at 11:46 AM on September 15 [11 favorites]


“ Tenet is frankly a bit of a trainwreck. I don't know how someone as detail oriented as Christopher Nolan could release it with such a terrible sound mix.”

This right here. I saw Tenet at the drive in, and the combination of bad sound mixing and movie sound over car radio made the plot all but incomprehensible for the first 15 minutes if not more. I went home and read the synopsis on Wikipedia to straighten out details. It was an interesting film, and maybe I would see it again just for the premise. But no, as much as I love movies, I’m not gonna go sit in an incubator to watch.
posted by toodleydoodley at 12:22 PM on September 15 [3 favorites]


Even in the alternate timeline where no pandemic ever happened, I still wouldn't be seeing Tenet or any Nolan movie in theaters. Interstellar was very firmly the last time I'll be doing that.

Which is to say, I'm sure he has what seems like good reasons he especially wants people to see this one in a theater, but I can't hear them over the BWAAAAAAAAAAAAAA.


This. Watching Interstellar in the theater was ridiculous. The soundtrack routinely drowned out the dialog. If you've ever wanted to watch a movie from inside a pipe organ, I guess this was for you. I'd say there's a greater than even chance that seeing Tenet in the theater is a worse experience than seeing it at home.
posted by straight at 12:25 PM on September 15 [5 favorites]


Yeah, people insisting it's some altruistic "I care about you enjoying the experience of this wonderful film" motive on Nolan's part are hilarious. Even in the before times, if your movie opens at No. 2, it's considered a dismal failure, no matter how much money it rakes in, or what kind of legs it has where it might survive in the theatres longer on first-run than the No. 1 movie. And then you get divas like this who are eagerly abetted by execs. It's a system that's been due a reckoning for a long time, but with the cults of personality around so many directors, which this example really highlights, I can't imagine that happening, assuming the industry survives. (I say that as someone who LOVES going to the theatre.)
posted by kitten kaboodle at 12:27 PM on September 15 [1 favorite]


> About ten years ago, somebody (Microsoft?) got a patent on a system - never implemented - that would allow charging for movies and other PPV events based on the number of people in the room, measured by a camera on the playback device.

> Remember that originally XBox One required an always-on internet connection and an always-on Kinect, both of those things were toggled off after public outcry.

Please drink a verification can.
posted by genpfault at 12:43 PM on September 15 [15 favorites]



About ten years ago, somebody (Microsoft?) got a patent on a system - never implemented - that would allow charging for movies and other PPV events based on the number of people in the room, measured by a camera on the playback device.


Devices like this exist and are in-use to build better tv watching metrics than Nielsen data. Most, like Neilsen are opt-in, and run on a webcam, with an Intel NUC computer.

They not only count the number of people in the room, but also measure their attention by their eyes, not terribly unlike the software in fancy cars that makes sure you are paying attention to the road.
posted by The_Vegetables at 1:15 PM on September 15 [1 favorite]


Richard Kadrey (previously on the blue) bottom-lines it in a tweet.
posted by Halloween Jack at 1:34 PM on September 15 [1 favorite]


I really don't understand the desire to watch a movie in the theatres at this time. On the weekend we drove by a movie theatre and my 6-year-old kid wistfully said he'd missed going to the movies but even he understood that it wasn't a safe thing to do right now. I'm sure in places that have got their community spread under control it's a different story, but that isn't most of North America.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 1:35 PM on September 15 [3 favorites]


I think of all the films that I’ve made, this is perhaps the one that is most designed for the audience experience, the big screen experience. This is a film whose image and sound really needs to be enjoyed in your theaters on the big screen and we’re very very excited for you to see what it is we’ve done.

I hope it gets a theatrical re-release in 2022.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 2:01 PM on September 15


Maybe it would have made a difference if Tenet was actually a good movie.
posted by storybored at 2:59 PM on September 15 [2 favorites]


Where are you people living where there are still drive-in theaters and movie theaters with great big parking lots, that isn't also on fire?

also Christopher Nolan is highly overrated, as anyone who ever watched Memento in chronological order can attest.
posted by aspersioncast at 3:18 PM on September 15


I was gonna say... the resurgence of Drive-ins! I know of 3 in PA. One went out of business, this summer though.
posted by 922257033c4a0f3cecdbd819a46d626999d1af4a at 3:40 PM on September 15


Tenet is frankly a bit of a trainwreck. I don't know how someone as detail oriented as Christopher Nolan could release it with such a terrible sound mix.

There are only three or four exposition-heavy scenes that are a bit mumbly, but there's more than enough elsewhere to make up for it.

So, my wife and I saw this in the cinema on the weekend. We have no community transmission on our side of the country, so it's not as reckless as you might think. I really enjoyed it. My wife, on the other hand, still doesn't know what we watched. But we both agreed that this is one of those films that no matter how much you love it, you can't recommend it to anyone because you have absolutely no idea if any other given individual will like it, hate it, or other.

My wife loves Interstella, I don't. We both think Inception is ok. She hasn't seen Memento. Neither of us care about Batman films. While lots of commentary might talk about the cult of Christopher Nolan, I think the reality is that his films do not have consistent wide appeal, which will muddy the waters when talking about the survival of cinemas using Tenet as a litmus test.

That said, the theatre was less than a quarter full, which I guess is good for social distancing but bad for business. I can see why other films have been pushed back.
posted by krisjohn at 4:39 PM on September 15


Remember that originally XBox One required an always-on internet connection and an always-on Kinect, both of those things were toggled off after public outcry

Neither one of these statement was ever true.
posted by sideshow at 4:40 PM on September 15 [1 favorite]


Watching Interstellar in the theater was ridiculous. The soundtrack routinely drowned out the dialog. If you've ever wanted to watch a movie from inside a pipe organ, I guess this was for you

I watched Intersteller at Ebertfest on a 70mm print with an amazing sound system and it felt exactly like being inside a pipe organ. It was glorious.
posted by octothorpe at 5:10 PM on September 15 [3 favorites]


The theaters don't appear to be open in my area yet — but even before Covid it did not seem anywhere near crowded at many of the movies I went out to.

I did like seeing the 3D films when they were available (why not see something in the theater that I was not going to be able to watch on my tv) and avoided weekend showings — so that might account for the smaller audiences. The last one I saw was Onward in 3D (you did have to catch them quickly, since the 3D showings didn't run long). I suspect they won't be showing 3D movies if the theaters reopen — but maybe they'd want to double-down on something you can't watch at home.

It is going to be a while before I'm going to feel comfortable going to a movie theater. That is too bad — getting me a movie pass for Christmas was always a safe bet.
posted by rochrobbb at 7:45 PM on September 15


aspersioncast: Where are you people living where there are still drive-in theaters and movie theaters with great big parking lots, that isn't also on fire?

Not sure if you've looked at a map of the U.S. recently, but there's a whooooooole country between the East Coast and the West Coast. It's pretty big.

There are even drive-in movies in some cities too! Crazy, right?
posted by tzikeh at 7:59 PM on September 15 [3 favorites]


I was gonna say... the resurgence of Drive-ins! I know of 3 in PA

I love the Riverside Drive-In in West Mifflin. This weekend will be the first time in several years that I haven’t gone to their annual Drive-In Super Monster-Rama Classic horror weekend. It’s so much fun to camp overnight right in the drive-in! (A couple of years ago, the fact that it’s built on the flood plain of the Allegheny River became a bit of an issue during a big rainstorm...)

There’s a drive-in in a city about forty-five minutes away from me, but a pop-up drive-in opened up in my town this summer. And there’s been an outdoor Movies in the Park series for several years.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 9:03 PM on September 15 [1 favorite]


Yeah, the various outdoor movie theatres are probably going to do very well as they start up in the summer here. We're mostly clear of COVID but I'm still not particularly compelled to go to the cinema, not least because Tenet seems unworthy of the risk.
posted by Merus at 11:28 PM on September 15


Remember that originally XBox One required an always-on internet connection and an always-on Kinect, both of those things were toggled off after public outcry

Neither one of these statement was ever true.
posted by sideshow at 4:40 PM on September 15


Wrong-o.
posted by Halloween Jack at 7:00 AM on September 16


Tenet seems unworthy of the risk.

Several weeks from now we're going to see an article called "I went to see Tenet and caught the coronavirus. It wasn't worth it."
posted by jenfullmoon at 8:35 AM on September 16 [1 favorite]


jzb: Also, though I'm glad for this, I think Disney screwed up by not starting this with Hamilton. I didn't have the expectation of seeing it on streaming for free, they could have eased people into this with Hamilton and gotten more traction. I know my family would have jumped at it.

this was my exact thought. I would easily have paid $30 for Hamilton. My guess is that the Mouse is too focused on family films making back $ to realize what other piles of money they may be sitting on.

While it's certainly not the cash cow the entertainment industry is used to milking, I would love to see more recorded plays/musicals available for streaming, a la National Theater's youtube offerings from earlier this summer. and available on blu-ray, in the case of their version of a midsummer night's dream. that production blew my damn mind. I might not pay $30 for Our Town, but for Ruth Negga as Hamlet? EASILY. Take my money!!
posted by snerson at 8:56 AM on September 16 [1 favorite]


They didn't do it for Hamilton because Hamilton was their value-add for staying subscribed to Disney Plus.
posted by graventy at 10:01 AM on September 16 [1 favorite]


Yeah, I feel like Tenet is a weak case for all of the hand-wringing. Nolan is a very divisive director, and even back a hundred years ago when we thought the pandemic was going to be under control by this summer and things would resume as "normal," I had already declared to my bf that I had no intention of seeing this in the theater because I'm not a Nolan fan to begin with and I was totally turned off by the pretentious "I can't possibly explain the premise of this ~amazing new film" that was the angle of the early press for this by Nolan and RPatz. I am not convinced this would have been the box office triumph they're envisioning if this had been a normal summer and it was up against, like, Wonder Woman 1984.

And that was before, you know, the pandemc continued and pretty much every public health official ranked sitting in a movie theater just below letting covid-infected strangers spit into your mouth in terms of risk.

I don't even trust the drive-in movies where I am. I thought that $24 + food delivery was a pretty good evening for two when we rented Bill and Ted Face the Music a few weeks back. I don't know why, but $24 to rent from Amazon somehow seemed more reasonable than the $30 for Mulan (setting aside the other political issues that made me disinterested in seeing Mulan). So yeah: $20-$24 seems like a sweet spot for being able to rake in a least a little bit of money until everyone either writes off all movies for the year or waits until 2022, which is pretty much the earliest I see myself back in the theaters at this point. And I'm someone who'd usually see two dozen movies a year at the theater.
posted by TwoStride at 7:44 PM on September 16 [1 favorite]


Also I'm the perfect example of the wisdom of the Hamilton scheme because I signed up for D+ explicitly to watch it, swore that I'd cancel after a month... and haven't canceled yet. So they've now earned $21 from me and counting.
posted by TwoStride at 7:47 PM on September 16 [4 favorites]


hey, if anyone needs to hear from any more film-snobs poo-poo-ing on Nolan for being visually flashy but narratively weak, well, you can count me in; I don't hate him, but I wouldn't go out of my way to see his next opus... which I guess is the case?
posted by ovvl at 8:59 PM on September 16


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