Where Can You Actually See 'Tenet' in America This Weekend?

If you want to see Christopher Nolan's latest brain-teaser, you're going to have to go to a theater.

john david washington, tenet
John David Washington | Warner Bros.
John David Washington | Warner Bros.

The news is true: Tenet has arrived in America. After months of speculation in the press, light mockery on social media and a few release-date changes, the latest blockbuster brain-teaser from director Christopher Nolan -- originally scheduled for release on July 17 before the coronavirus upended the summer movie schedule -- isn't just a poster, a trailer, or a topic of endless debate anymore. It's a real movie that's now showing in theaters across the United States. Or at least some theaters in some states.

But will people go see it? Other than Tom Cruise, I mean? That's the question that Nolan, Warner Bros., and the larger movie industry have pondered over last month as the time-travel thriller served as a massive trial balloon for a mode of entertainment that's financially flatlined due to ongoing pandemic protocols. (The movie has currently made over $300 million worldwide, but it continues to struggle in the U.S. with only $48 million at the domestic box office.) Besides those big picture concerns, there are simpler matters you might have questions about as you navigate this odd historical moment. We've got you covered.

tenet movie
John David Washington and Robert Pattinson | Warner Bros.

Where is Tenet currently playing in the United States?

It's easier to start with where Tenet will not be playing. As of October 16, Tenet isn't permitted to be shown in New York City or in Los Angeles, two of the biggest moviegoing markets in the country. The movie will also not be playing in New Mexico or Washington, D.C. States like Florida, Michigan, Oregon, Washington, and Wisconsin may have limited options. You can check this site for a more detailed, up-to-date rundown of where the film is screening.

In recent weeks, two states -- North Carolina and Washington -- have reopened theaters after keeping them closed well into September. In Washington, Yahoo reports that AMC and Cinemark have announced theater openings across the state, but Regal theater chains, which are owned Cineworld, will remain closed. Cineworld suspended operations in 536 Regal theaters on October 8 after it was announced No Time to Die, the latest James Bond movie, was being delayed.

In North Carolina, Governor Roy Cooper announced on October 4 that the state was entering Phase 3 and that movie theaters would be reopening. 

When will things change in New York City or L.A.? In a press conference on September 3, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo noted that casinos and malls have the go ahead to reopen on September 9, but, as noted by Deadline, he did not mention movie theaters as part of this next reopening wave. Earlier this month, Cuomo announced that indoor dining will be allowed in NYC at 25% capacity on September 30, but he again did not mention movie theaters as part of the plan. National Association of Theater Owners CEO John Fithian recently told ABC New York, "We are safe. It is time to open movie theaters in New York."

Governor Cuomo has not budged on movie theaters. On October 14, the Global Cinema Federation, a worldwide organization of theater operators, published an open letter pleading with Cuomo to reopen theaters, arguing that many theater companies may not survive if action is not taken. The letter was signed by leaders from AMC, Cinemark, Cineplex and Cineworld. They also suggested New York adapt a plan similar to the one in Los Angeles, which allows for theaters to reopen on a "county-by-county basis according to virus data." 

Theaters remain closed in Los Angeles, but Tenet is now available in drive-in theaters in L.A., where it was previously not an option. (More on that head-scratching choice below.) Last week, The Los Angeles Times published a detailed run-down of the situation in California, where restrictions in areas like Orange County and Marin County have begun to be lifted. As with most things relating to the coronavirus, the conditions could change as the number of cases rise or fall in the coming weeks.

Can you see Tenet at drive-in movie theaters?

This is a question with a complicated answer. With traditional movie theaters closed all summer, drive-in movie theaters have seen a revival in recent months. So, it would make sense for Tenet to be playing at drive-in theaters across the country, right? On August 24, Varietyreported that Tenet will be screening at some drive in theaters. But it will not be screening in drive-in theaters located in markets like New York and Los Angeles, where the film will not be also available in a traditional theater setting.

What's the logic here? The Variety article claims that movie exhibitors were told the decision was made "in order to help preserve the twists and turns of the plot, which has been shrouded in secrecy." That explanation is ridiculous, since the movie has been showing overseas for weeks already, and the internet has no end of spoilers. But, sure it's certainly possible. As Indiewire speculates, it's also possible that Nolan himself is not a fan of the drive-in format or that it's part of an effort by Warner Bros. to put more pressure on cities to reopen their theaters. Like with all things Tenet, it's perhaps best to embrace the mystery.

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A big explosion! | Warner Bros.

Can you rent a movie theater to watch Tenet

Yes, it's possible. As movie fans grapple with the challenges of staying safe and going to watch Tenet, this could emerge as a popular (but expensive) option. Obviously, you could spend a large amount of money buying up all the seats for a particular screening at a movie theater near or, if you live in a state with restrictions, even not-so-near to you, but some chains do offer special pricing packages for anyone looking to host a group screening in a more controllably socially distanced environment. For example, Cinemark is currently offering a "Private Watch Party" option that's priced between $99 and $175. Even if your group is a single person (you), this might be the least problematic option, or at least the one that, without any actual scientific evidence being available, you might think is the least problematic option, if you absolutely find yourself needing to see a movie in a theater during a global pandemic that is still raging in the United States and has caused the deaths of more than 186,000 Americans so far.

Can you see Tenet in IMAX?

The point of Tenet is that it's big, loud, and pulverizing. So, if you are someone who has decided that they absolutely can't not see Tenet in theater, you might want to see it in the format that will emphasize those aspects of the movie. Indiewire has a helpful list of every IMAX location, along with a much shorter list of theaters where you can see the movie on 70 mm.

tenet, christopher nolan
Christopher Nolan | Warner Bros.

Is Tenet available on streaming or VOD?

No! For months, industry observers and fans have idly wondered if Warner Bros. might ditch the theatrical route and instead release Tenet via On Demand or the new streaming service HBO Max. After all, Disney announced that Mulan, another high-profile tentpole that also moved its release date multiple times this summer, was heading to Disney+ (with a $29.95 rental fee attached), there was speculation that Warner Bros. could do something similar. But these speculators obviously were no match for the stubborn resolve of Nolan, who's seemed hell-bent on Tenet being released only in theaters and not pushed to 2021 or changed to VOD like so many other movies have been during this unprecedented time. A pandemic? Pshaw! What pandemic!?, Nolan and Warner Bros. are effectively saying, so you will not find Tenet on Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, or any other popular streaming or VOD service. Unsurprisingly, Varietyreported earlier this week that poorly recorded pirated copies of the movie have leaked online.

At a certain point in the future, Tenet will be released on VOD and you will be able to watch it on your couch or on your phone. Depending on how the movie's theatrical run goes, Warner Bros. could decide to get it on VOD more quickly than it would traditionally. But, honestly, predicting what will happen with Tenet feels a little pointless at this juncture.

tenet movie
Robert Pattinson | Warner Bros.

Should you go see Tenet in a theater?

As with most questions relating to the pandemic, there's no easy answer here, as it likely depends on where you live, what your tolerance is for potentially catching an infectious disease that could kill you, or how receptive you are to the advice of pandemic experts. Your best bet is to read as much as you can before making a decision, follow the suggested protocols, and consider the potential health risks involved. The big theater chains have announced a shared program, dubbed CinemaSafe, that outlines all the changes they've made to create a safer environment in theaters, including rules about mask and theater capacity. But is it enough? Luckily, many news outlets have published stories that can help you figure out what you want to do.

Vulture has an informative interview with Dr. Robert Lahita, chairman of medicine at St. Joseph’s Health in New Jersey, that digs into multiple tricky questions about theater safety. He emphasizes wearing a mask, keeping social distance, washing your hands, and refraining from eating until you're in the theater. "Nothing is 100 percent safe,” he says toward the end of the interview, a sentiment that you'll find repeated in other stories about the topic.

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Dan Jackson is a senior staff writer at Thrillist Entertainment. He's on Twitter @danielvjackson.