Contributions by Shawn Robbins, Rebecca Pahle, and Russ Fischer
The new trailer for Christopher Nolan’s highly anticipated Tenet has debuted online via the video game Fortnite and on YouTube.
The launch makes an important statement on multiple fronts, none more notable than Warner Bros. and the filmmaker’s commitment to release the film in cinemas worldwide. It’s a message that comes at a time when streaming and PVOD have dominated media conversation in the era of COVID-19, although often that discourse has often lacked complete perspective that includes the importance of — and eagerness to resume — theatrical exhibition.
“Coming to Theaters“
Notably absent from the new trailer is the film’s originally planned release date of July 17 this summer. Presumably, this is the studio’s way of hedging its bets: the film isn’t officially delayed, and they may have a few more weeks to make that decision in case circumstances around the world don’t reach a state necessary for an important, and expensive, global release like this.
The timing of this debut isn’t particularly surprising, though, since this time on the calendar would have typically been the ideal time for a studio to kick its marketing machine into high gear for a big July release. This provides yet another indication that the studio (and, almost certainly, Nolan himself) have not abandoned hope of sticking to the July window.
That being said, if worse comes to worse, there is a possibility the film could scoot down the calendar into Wonder Woman 1984‘s August 14 if necessary — likely pushing that film into the holiday slate later this year. There are no clear answers on that, but for now, no news is probably good news.
What Is Fortnite?
Launched in 2017, Fortnite is an enormously popular video game—with 350 million registered players as of April, according to developer Epic Games—that lets users either fight their way through a post-apocalyptic hellscape or fight each other, depending on what mode they’re in. Last month, Epic Games launched the “party royale” section of Fortnite—simply put, a digital “island” where where players can get together and socialize. The design of the party royale space includes fast food restaurants, a dance club, and a movie theater. It’s in this social-centric, no-fighting zone that Fortnite has hosted a string of digital concerts, one of which—a Travis Scott concert with multiple “tour dates” spreading over three days in April—drew 12.3 million concurrent players at its height. (Watching a few seconds of this Marshmello concert will give you a sense of what these big, in-game events are like.)
Fortnite’s party royale island is where players will need to be to see the new Tenet trailer, marking just the latest of a string of marketing collaborations between the game and major studios. Many of those marketing collaborations have taken place outside party royale, in the parts of the game where players—or, rather, their digital avatars—fight. Over the last several months, marketing tie-ins have allowed Fortnite users to adopt “skins” allowing them to play as John Wick (tied to John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum); Harley Quinn (tied to Birds of Prey, also from Tenet distributor Warner Bros.); or several characters from the MCU, in the form of a crossover game tied to Avengers: Infinity War and Endgame. Fortnite’s ties with Disney have extended to a Stormtrooper skin and, last December, the release of a clip from The Rise of Skywalker. In addition to movies and music, Fortnite promotional tie-ins have included sports and clothing, leading Polygon to call the game “one of the most popular and effective ways to promote a product” as of last year.
Donald Mustard, Worldwide Creative Director for Epic Games, further elaborated in the decision to launch this trailer via their popular game. “The idea of debuting the Tenet trailer came from a phone call with Christopher Nolan. We were all talking about our love of seeing new trailers in a THEATER and how sad we were that we can’t do that right now – but how maybe this could be the next best thing. Hope you love it!”
In addition to the aforementioned communal aspect, the game attracts a predominately young audience between the ages of 26 and 34, with many players even younger. That’s an important target audience for major Hollywood films who often go to films in large groups and can rank among the most effective groups of consumers when it comes to spreading word of mouth via social media.
Classic Nolan Marketing
This isn’t the first time a Nolan film has been shrouded in mystery, though it is certainly the first time one of his films has debuted a trailer via a video game. Typically, his trailers have debuted exclusively in theaters followed by an online launch, and typically attached to films that targeted adult and/or four-quadrant audiences. The aim here seems to underline the importance of attracting a younger audience when the film launches given that they are likely to return to theaters the soonest.
Following the premiere John David Washington commented that Tenet is “to be seen in a theater on a big movie screen, it’s going to be so vibrant.”
The movie world believes him, and it cannot wait.