Everything We Know

Everything We Know About Christopher Nolan's Tenet

What is it about, who's in it, when will it be released, and what can we assume from the trailers? We break it all down.

by | July 27, 2020 | Comments

John David Washington in Tenet
(Photo by Warner Bros. Pictures)

Christopher Nolan’s movies are always highly anticipated and mysterious affairs, and Tenet, the director’s 11th film, is no exception. In fact, it might actually be the Nolan movie that audiences know the least about, especially since the future of the entire film industry is currently unclear due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Still, with two trailers and a release date that has shifted a few times, we know a little bit about Nolan’s Dunkirk follow-up. Here’s the scoop on Tenet[Updated on 7/27/20.]

It’s Another Nolan Original

Christopher Nolan on the set of Interstellar
(Photo by Melinda Sue Gordon/©Paramount Pictures)

Christopher Nolan is one of the only filmmakers whose name alone is enough to make a movie an event without it needing to be a reboot, adaptation, or part of a big cinematic universe. Tenet is a wholly original story, written and directed by Nolan. What’s the story about, though? Harder to say.

The most bare-bones synopsis is that Tenet will involve a secret agent (John David Washington) on a mission to stop a potentially catastrophic World War III. Sounds normal enough, but the two trailers reveal that this isn’t your everyday spy thriller. Instead, Tenet seems as though it will once more explore Nolan’s fascination with time, as seen in Inception, Interstellar, and, to an extent, even Dunkirk. Cars crash in reverse, and there are bullet holes in walls before the gunmen have even opened fire. How this is possible, and what this all means, is still unclear.  

There Are Two Trailers

Hobbs & Shaw audiences were the first to see a glimpse of Tenet back in August of 2019, when Warner Bros. attached a 40-second teaser ahead of the film. The first proper trailer dropped in December, before the pandemic really started. In an online event tied to the video game Fortnite on May 21, Warner Bros. then premiered a second trailer that revealed new scenes from the film and more dialogue than the first one.

Neither trailer goes too deeply into specifics, but it appears that Washington is a new recruit into some sort of agency that’s able to harness a mysterious power to reverse time, an ability known as “inversion.” Together with the help of some allies, he’ll attempt to prevent disaster, presumably one caused by a “Russian national” who can “communicate with the future.” Washington’s character appears to learn how to do some form of this too, as we see him “catch” bullets with his gun and witness a car crash undoing itself. Plus, there are more traditional set pieces as well, like a jumbo jet crashing through a building. Washington confirmed in a brief Q&A following the Fortnite premiere that the latter was not a product of CGI, and knowing Nolan, the rest of the effects in the film are likely as practical — i.e. “real” — as possible.

The Cast Is Impressive — And Unexpected

Robert Pattinson in Tenet
(Photo by Warner Bros. Pictures)

In addition to Washington, the son of actor Denzel Washington who received acclaim for his starring role in Spike Lee’s BlacKkKlansman, Nolan has cast a number of talented actors. Robert Pattinson, the future Batman himself, is one of the more notable members of the cast, as is Michael Caine, one of Nolan’s go-to actors.

Kenneth Branagh, Age of Ultron’s Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Yesterday’s Himesh Patel, and Widows’ Elizabeth Debicki also appear in the cast. There are also a few actors foreign audiences might recognize. Notable Bollywood stars Dimple Kapadia and Denzil Smith also appear in the film, as does French actress Clémence Poésy, who is probably best known for playing Fleur Delacour in the Harry Potter films.

None of the roles have been explicitly specified yet, but we can glean a few clues from the trailers. Pattinson and Patel appear to be associates of Washington’s character, who at least seems to be recruiting Pattinson’s character in the trailer footage. Meanwhile, Clémence Poésy’s character is apparently some sort of trainer for the agency that enlists Washington’s help, and it seems fairly clear that Kenneth Branagh is the villainous “Russion national” — a role similar to the one he played in 2014’s Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit. Elizabeth Debicki’s character appears to be central to the conflict, but it’s unclear what her relationship to Washington’s character — or anyone else, for that matter — is.

Hans Zimmer Will Not Be Providing the Score

Nolan frequently works with composer Hans Zimmer for his movies, but that won’t be the case on Tenet. Zimmer, who scored The Dark Knight trilogy, Interstellar, Dunkirk, and Inception, had already committed to scoring Denis Villeneuve’s upcoming adaptation of Dune, so he couldn’t work on Tenet. Instead, Swedish composer Ludwig Göransson, who did the music for Black Panther, the Creed movies, and The Mandalorian series on Disney+, will score Tenet.

It Looks Great (And It Was Really Expensive)

Plane exploding in Tenet
(Photo by Warner Bros. Pictures)

Nolan shot scenes for the film in seven countries: Denmark, Estonia, India, Italy, Norway, the United Kingdom, and the United States. It will premiere in theaters (or at least it’s supposed to) in 70mm, 35mm, and IMAX formats, as well as a standard digital presentation.

The production budget for Tenet is reportedly $205 million, making it Nolan’s most expensive original film. Observer spoke to experts who predicted that the movie needs to make around $500 million to break even, which normally would seem like a sure thing. Inception made more than $800 million, while Dunkirk and Interstellar both surpassed the half-a-billion mark. However, the coronavirus may have thrown a wrench in those plans…

It Will Roll Out in Theaters in Waves, Beginning on August 26

While the pandemic prompted most movie theaters to close their doors to avoid spreading the virus, and most studios delayed their blockbusters’ release dates or punted them to 2021, Tenet held fast for as long as it could. About a month before its originally scheduled July 17 theatrical release, Warner Bros. finally caved and shifted it to August 12. Then, on July 20, it was pulled from theaters entirely, with no indication when it would premiere. Finally, on July 27, it was announced that Tenet would first open in two dozen markets worldwide — including the UK, South Korea, and France — on Wednesday, August 26, before expanding into more markets over the next few days, and it would ultimately open in the US on Thursday, September 3, ahead of the Labor Day weekend.

Christopher Nolan has personally pushed against moving the movie’s release date back, according to reports. Nolan is a major proponent of the traditional theatrical experience, and as one of the few directors whose name alone is big enough to get moviegoers to buy a ticket, he might be able to convince audiences to get back into theaters — assuming theaters are open. Although various states have begun to reopen parts of their economy despite the continued spread of the coronavirus, major movie theater chains haven’t followed suit.

It’s unclear what the state of the COVID-19 pandemic will look like at the end of August, and it’s unclear if audiences will feel safe going to the movies, regardless of Nolan’s allure. For now, Tenet is no longer the first big release that plans to open in theaters this summer season, but it is by far the biggest, and it may still serve as a barometer for major studio releases in the near future.

Don’t Expect It to Premiere on Streaming or VOD

As mentioned, Nolan is a huge champion of the theatergoing experience, so it seems highly unlikely that he’d allow for Tenet to premiere in a format that would allow audiences to watch it on their phones for the first time rather than in glorious IMAX. In addition, it’s unlikely that Warner Bros. would make nearly as much money from a VOD release as it would make with a theatrical release in normal circumstances. Further complicating this is the somewhat inside-baseball fact that Nolan’s contract stipulates that he makes 20% of the film’s first dollar gross, so he stands to make much more from a big theatrical release than something smaller.

The big question about Tenet, then — more than any mystery about the plot — is what’s going to happen when it premieres, and what will the circumstances of that premiere look like? We’ll have to wait and see.

Tenet is currently scheduled for release in the US on September 3, 2020.

Tag Cloud

news WarnerMedia supernatural game show TIFF FXX DC Universe Brie Larson composers television Netflix Christmas movies batman Amazon Prime Video politics LGBTQ reviews nbcuniversal Cannes all-time APB unscripted NBC game of thrones Shudder science fiction sitcom miniseries Disney Plus ESPN book cults Disney streaming service President Winners worst free movies Teen Pirates screenings Walt Disney Pictures Syfy Britbox TCA Winter 2020 hispanic HBO Go halloween films Tumblr SundanceTV Amazon Studios Captain marvel Star Wars TCA Awards Adult Swim Binge Guide Sony Pictures elevated horror crime thriller Baby Yoda what to watch talk show WGN theme song indiana jones Food Network YouTube vampires Tubi 20th Century Fox Toys MSNBC cops Watching Series CBS All Access Western anime Action Mary Tyler Moore Comics on TV versus laika Comedy Sundance Podcast Esquire The CW Rocketman BBC America Hulu nature Women's History Month Arrowverse Quiz Red Carpet singing competition dragons breaking bad DGA witnail Peacock Turner 2017 dramedy asian-american 71st Emmy Awards crime Amazon period drama anthology cinemax movies Disney+ Disney Plus Apple TV+ TNT mission: impossible war psychological thriller mockumentary Sundance Now rotten SDCC First Reviews strong female leads teaser Biopics Acorn TV blockbuster superhero children's TV Superheroe blaxploitation video Avengers dc canceled TV shows Warner Bros. name the review DirecTV Crackle Extras Spring TV Lifetime dceu south america Funimation RT History Holidays Heroines The Arrangement GLAAD Schedule best Turner Classic Movies Family Disney Channel zombie mutant Comedy Central Pet Sematary Superheroes BET Awards Ellie Kemper National Geographic ratings christmas movies twilight Dark Horse Comics foreign Pop obituary Television Critics Association TLC FX on Hulu a nightmare on elm street reboot A&E robots Calendar serial killer Mary poppins Super Bowl joker die hard CNN travel DC streaming service Pixar Classic Film satire Music 24 frames ITV Pop TV emmy awards SXSW Infographic comiccon Writers Guild of America revenge Cartoon Network 2018 spy thriller Drama Winter TV GIFs TV Land Comic Book quibi sequel Horror BBC 2015 Song of Ice and Fire TCA 2017 cooking Rocky binge scary movies E! thriller harry potter hollywood Fall TV A24 TV The Witch Nat Geo Oscars PaleyFest cancelled TV series OWN ABC Family true crime indie Epix comic Showtime hist franchise 2016 comedies Trivia Amazon Prime golden globes 2019 Logo disaster Election MCU cancelled television Tarantino The Walking Dead spider-man canceled festivals Television Academy Columbia Pictures screen actors guild cats YA Ghostbusters finale Discovery Channel zero dark thirty The Purge crime drama streaming police drama Fantasy Paramount Network Black History Month TV renewals Premiere Dates slashers spain Sci-Fi USA green book Mystery fast and furious Awards psycho Chernobyl E3 Thanksgiving justice league Hallmark Christmas movies rotten movies we love Cosplay MTV Nominations political drama Trophy Talk romance dark VOD critics Reality stop motion Kids & Family Interview Animation PBS Academy Awards comics concert parents Travel Channel Creative Arts Emmys Masterpiece Mindy Kaling tv talk jamie lee curtis toy story Rock American Society of Cinematographers Apple TV Plus medical drama 45 Character Guide Marvel Studios 21st Century Fox casting aliens Set visit OneApp spanish language Paramount History Crunchyroll Stephen King cars technology Video Games doctor who HBO Max Film Festival cancelled TV shows Trailer Polls and Games Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt Star Trek Spectrum Originals universal monsters Mudbound 2020 HBO Emmy Nominations TCA BET BAFTA Chilling Adventures of Sabrina dogs FX docudrama video on demand Awards Tour FOX Disney Hear Us Out sports Freeform social media Sundance TV Vudu Certified Fresh ABC IFC Opinion directors stand-up comedy adaptation criterion Holiday 72 Emmy Awards Endgame Sneak Peek historical drama child's play award winner Film Musicals boxoffice biography Country cartoon See It Skip It cancelled Marvel Television classics First Look Starz romantic comedy CW Seed USA Network Apple Bravo VH1 latino Pride Month Elton John Christmas Mary Poppins Returns ghosts Lucasfilm Nickelodeon Fox News Rom-Com DC Comics Box Office Anna Paquin richard e. Grant YouTube Premium CMT AMC 007 discovery IFC Films El Rey Marathons kids independent werewolf Photos PlayStation diversity Summer Grammys zombies Ovation Emmys LGBT crossover series CBS X-Men San Diego Comic-Con NYCC documentary YouTube Red renewed TV shows Countdown New York Comic Con animated GoT Musical natural history Tomatazos movie space Year in Review stoner Martial Arts facebook TCM VICE RT21 adventure transformers BBC One Best and Worst 4/20 based on movie Spike Marvel TruTV spinoff Hallmark chucky TBS Lifetime Christmas movies Lionsgate Black Mirror Valentine's Day Universal sag awards Netflix Reality Competition documentaries Shondaland