The movie meant to save theaters didn’t, and that’s an understatement.
Christopher Nolan’s “Tenet,” the first major film to hit theaters since the COVID-19 pandemic erupted in March, has earned a measly $41 million stateside since its Sept. 3 release.
The film should have made more than that in its opening weekend under typical conditions. “Tenet’s” byzantine plot didn’t help, and word of mouth matters with or without a global pandemic.
The miserly reception caused Disney to bounce “Black Widow” from November into 2021, along with “Death on the Nile” and Steven Spielberg’s “West Side Story” remake.
Will James Bond return, at long last, in November as promised via “No Time to Die?”
The scheduling shifts aren’t the worst news impacting theaters at the moment, though.
Streaming outlets are on the rise, snagging some of the biggest names in the industry to create original content you can view at home. Director Steven Soderbergh’s next starry project will bow on HBO Max, not in theaters nationwide.
George Clooney’s “The Midnight Sky” debuts on Netflix, not any theatrical chain, come December.
Cultural habits can change over a few months, even those that seemed set in stone for years, if not decades. Remember how you once held a newspaper in your hand and read it cover to cover? Or how you spent Friday nights in line for the latest Hollywood blockbuster?
There’s more to the story, though.
Stars have not been behaving as well as anyone hoped during the pandemic. When the virus first hit celebrities struggled with their messaging. Some created online-only content to entertain the masses, a simple, noble gesture.
Others looked shockingly tone deaf, witness the galling “Imagine” cover featuring Gal Gadot and her celebrity pals.
“Imagine no possessions,” crooned singers with tons, and tons, of them.
Ellen DeGeneres whined about being stuck in her mega mansion, the first of several news cycles that damaged her populist appeal.
Later, when ordinary Americans fought back against the lockdowns decimating their livelihoods, stars mocked them as hicks who didn’t understand science and wanted to kill grandma while their paychecks kept a-coming.
Not a nice look. It got worse from there.
The usual celebrity angst against President Trump ramped up, if one can believe that was possible. The ugly comments got uglier, with some directly targeting Trump voters.
You know, the folks who also like to unwind at the local cineplex.
Some stars took their activism in a ghastly direction, donating to the Minnesota Freedom Fund which bails out jailed protesters. Celebrities like Seth Rogen, Steve Carell and Janelle Monae didn’t care if their money sprang unfairly arrested protesters (unlikely) or folks who eagerly set the city on fire (or committed even worse crimes).
Other stars directly poured digital gasoline on the fires, including Trevor Noah, Ice Cube, John Cusack and Michael Moore.
More recently, stars reassembled their classic TV show casts, something that could have proved a fun diversion in our locked down world.
Instead, they turned these reunions into Democratic fundraising efforts.
Twitter isn’t real life, but chances are the cacophony of vile, divisive messages coming from Celebrity Nation seeped into the national consciousness.
It’s one thing to swallow hard and watch a new Samuel L. Jackson film at home. It’s another to snag a sitter and/or fork over $30-plus for a Jackson movie knowing he just insulted anyone voting Trump on “Jimmy Kimmel Live.”
Think that sentiment isn’t a factor in the anemic box office receipts we’re seeing these days?
Stars got hyper-political, and nasty, at the worst possible time. The theatrical model is on life support thanks to COVID, and media outlets which have scared us silly by downplaying hopeful news and exaggerating terrifying tidbits.
Will anyone be itching to pay $15 for an overhyped sequel coming Spring time, knowing they can watch it on their big-screen TV in a few weeks?
It didn’t have to be this way.
Celebrity Nation could have used this cultural time out to remind us why we love movies in the first place. Imagine a series of apolitical PSAs where stars share their favorite theater memories.
That kind of outreach, heavy on both nostalgia and empathy, might have coaxed some of us back to theaters.
Instead, the biggest stars of today gave us little reason to return to theaters. Perhaps we never will.
Christian Toto is the editor of the Colorado-based HollywoodInToto.com.