'Tenet' Will Play At A Southern California Drive-In Despite Indoor Theaters Being Closed, Ignoring WB's Previous Mandate

If you live in Los Angeles and have been itching to see Christopher Nolan's mind-bending new action thriller Tenet on the big screen in the safest possible way, we have good news. Starting tomorrow, Tenet will be playing at Mission Tiki, a drive-in located about 40 minutes outside of the city center. But the fact that it will be playing at that specific theater flies in the face of a Tenet drive-in mandate that Warner Bros. issued a few weeks ago. So what's going on here?

On August 24, word came out that WB was limiting Tenet's roll-out in drive-in theaters around the country. The mandate, which the studio gave to exhibitors, was that the film could only play in outdoor venues in areas where indoor theaters were open. That meant that if state or local government agencies kept nearby indoor theaters closed to limit the spread of COVID-19, drive-ins in that area were not supposed to be allowed to play the movie. The decision left many of us baffled: why would WB not provide audiences with a safe way to watch this movie from the comfort of their own cars?

Now, a week after Tenet opened in whatever theaters that U.S. markets would allow, WB seems to be reversing course. Former /Film writer Germain Lussier pointed out on Twitter (thanks to @MovieManJeff) that starting tomorrow, Tenet will be playing at the Mission Tiki drive-in theater in Montclair, California. I called several brick-and-mortar movie theaters in that area and confirmed that they are still closed, so the studio's bizarre mandate should theoretically still be in place.

So why the change of heart? Could it be that Tenet didn't perform quite as well at the domestic box office as some WB executives had hoped? Clearly the movie opened under circumstances that were not exactly ideal, and the film pulled in just over $20 million at the North American box office over Labor Day weekend. The expectation is that audiences will slowly trickle out to theaters and the film will make its money back much slower than normal, but perhaps the studio was hoping for a bigger start right out of the gate and are now getting a little worried about its future prospects. Maybe they're coming around to the idea that adding a pile of drive-in money to Tenet's total isn't a bad idea after all. And just yesterday, word came out that Wonder Woman 1984 might be pushed out of its October release date, which would benefit Tenet by having less competition at the box office. We've reached out to WB to find out what's going on, and will update this piece if we hear back.