While there have been isolated bright spots, the Australian cinema industry has struggled since re-opening this month, with Melbourne cinemas forced to close again as virus cases soared.
While he expects cinemas in Melbourne will remain closed for at least the short term, Palace chief executive Benjamin Zeccola has been heartened by trading in Sydney, despite an average of just 25 per cent of seats filled to allow social distancing, fewer sessions for extra cleaning and discounted books of tickets.
He is “absolutely thrilled” that Tenet is releasing soon and hopeful that other postponed Hollywood blockbusters, including Disney’s Mulan, can also return to the Australian release schedule.
“Spare a thought for Melbournians who are suffering another lockdown and will have to wait for Tenet,” Mr Zeccola said. “From Melbourne, we beg [Sydney movie-goers] to keep the plot to yourself and please do not pirate the film … Piracy is one of the main impediments to more tailored release dates.”
Eddie Tamir, owner of the Randwick Ritz in Sydney as well as the Classic, Lido and Cameo cinemas in Melbourne, hopes Tenet will be a major boost for ticket sales, especially with 70mm as well as digital screenings.
“To go first is pretty brave given all the restrictions and all of the chaos but it’s fantastic,” he said. “We obviously need fresh, big product as well as the small stuff and the retro stuff.”
The Ritz has also been selling an average of 25 per cent of seats to each session for social distancing.
The general manager of Cremorne’s Hayden Orpheum, Alex Temesvari, welcomed Warner Bros’ decision given that a strong first week after reopening was followed by weak trading as NSW went back on alert with new coronavirus cases.
“It’s felt like we’ve been waiting for that first major film to really pull people back into the cinemas,” he said. “And Nolan has got such an amazing track record of delivering with these big spectacle films that are as intelligent as they are successful.”
The industry’s struggles were highlighted when the top 20 movies reportedly took just $1.7 million last weekend – down 90 per cent for the same period last year.
Judd Apatow’s comic drama The King of Staten Island was on top of the box office for the second consecutive weekend, taking a modest $291,000.
Garry Maddox is a Senior Writer for The Sydney Morning Herald.