Christopher Nolan season helps revive Chinese film market

By Zhang Rui
0 Comment(s)Print E-mail, August 9, 2020
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A Chinese poster of Christopher Nolan's "Tenet" [Photo courtesy of Warner Bros.]

Warner Bros. announced on Thursday that Christopher Nolan's long-awaited spy sci-fi blockbuster "Tenet" would hit Chinese theaters on Sept. 4. The film is expected to become the first new big Hollywood production to hit the big screens in China, unless Disney's "Mulan" secures a China release date in the near future. 

Nolan greeted Chinese audiences in a pre-recorded video, calling "Tenet" a film "we've made very much for the big screen." He stressed, "As a huge fan of cinema and epic event cinema my whole life, I like nothing more than escaping to another world through the power of movies. 'Tenet' is our attempt to make as big a film as possible with as immersive action as possible for the big screen."

"Tenet" will also open in over 70 countries and regions worldwide starting on Aug. 26 ahead of US release in select cities on Sept. 3. It is poised to become the very first Hollywood tentpole to open around the world since its rival "Mulan" canceled theatrical releases in key markets of North America, New Zealand and several other countries. "Mulan" will premiere on Disney Plus. So Nolan's $200 million espionage epic will be the only hope for a while to provide a boost for cinemas outside China as they reopen cinemas hungering for good content.

The film has already been postponed by Warner Bros. three times in response to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. It was originally scheduled to debut on July 17 but was postponed to July 31 and then Aug. 12. But Nolan, a persistent cinema supporter, was not going to allow his film to go online.

A magazine cover featuring Christopher Nolan's "Tenet" team. [Photo courtesy of World Screen]

In China, the world's second-biggest film market after North America, cinemas are gearing up for wider reopening. Nolan's fanbase ensures his works, past or new, will achieve good box office revenue and receive rave reviews, which helps support the reopening of Chinese cinemas. His older classic "Interstellar" (2014) was re-released in China on Aug. 2 and soared to the No.1 position for days on the box office chart, beating new Hollywood releases "Dolittle" and "Sonic the Hedgehog" as well as China's new film "The Enigma Of Arrival." The film, which earned 755 million yuan in 2014, has easily surpassed the 800 million yuan mark when adding the new box office gross.

Warner Bros. will also re-release Nolan's "Inception" on Aug. 28 just a week before "Tenet" opens, either to celebrate the 10th anniversary of "Inception" or to warm up the market and create excitement for "Tenet." "Inception" grossed 462 million yuan in the Chinese market back in 2010.

The density of Nolan's film releases in China caused some moviegoers to joke that this is a "Christopher Nolan season" or "a protection month for Nolan films." It is unknown if Warner Bros. will pull out his popular "The Dark Knight" trilogy for re-release. The first and third installments of "The Dark Knight" were released in China, with the second installment giving up the China release, but its exhibition tickets can still be sold out in seconds during various film festivals.

Nolan's last film, the World War II epic "Dunkirk," grossed 340 million yuan in China.

Chinese posters of Christopher Nolan's older films "Interstellar" and "Inception" [Photo courtesy of Warner Bros.]

Besides Nolan's works, Warner Bros. has another weapon to inflame the Chinese audience’s passion and nostalgia this month. It will re-release "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone" in a 3D and 4K high-definition version on Aug. 14 to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the first "Harry Potter" book that was published in China in 2000.

Hollywood productions will continue to pour into China. Sony Pictures just announced that its "Little Women" secured a China release date of Aug. 25, while its "Bad Boys for Life" will hit Chinese theaters on Aug. 14. With "Mulan" pending in China, Disney will release its new Pixar animation "Onward" on Aug. 19. Universal set a date for DreamWorks Animation's "Trolls World Tour" release in China on Aug. 21, after it bypassed North American theaters to release the animated feature online but became a success grossing almost $100 million in rentals within three weeks of its PVOD release. 

China will also roll out its own heavyweight war epic "The Eight Hundred" on Aug. 21 and the much-anticipated romance film "Love You Forever" on Aug. 25. 

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