Christopher Nolan's films often famously play with time, but the British director's new blockbuster has been stuck in a coronavirus-plagued delay warp.
The Inception director's latest, Tenet, was supposed to be in cinemas this month. The US$200 million sci-fi thriller's release date was put back to August and then delayed indefinitely.
Now Warner Bros, the studio releasing the movie, says Tenet will be released in more than 70 countries on August 26. The United States will have to play second fiddle with the film being released there about a week later on September 3.
With the US in the top tier of countries struggling with Covid-19, the global cinema business has been starved of the type of new films most people want to see the most. Effectively, the US-centric nature of the industry is increasingly putting cinemas in other countries at risk.
Hollywood studios have been protecting their costly drawcards, saving them for when fans can pack in to watch without restrictions.
The biggest, most costly to make, films with a shot at netting a US$1 billion payday, usually land simultaneously in most movie markets to maximise hype and box office returns.
The approach helps to add an aura of "event" anticipation to inspire people to get off their sofas and into cinemas.
Covid-19 has not only stymied film releases and work on upcoming productions, but it has also hit different countries unevenly. The need for social distancing has meant extra costs. Cinemas are open here, and in parts of Europe, the Middle East and Asia. They are showing smaller films and some old ones but could do with a few big Hollywood releases.
Tenet was not the only blockbuster left hanging. A Quiet Place 2 is doing the same time-tunnel shuffle. It was originally due out in March, rescheduled for September and will now be released in April. Similarly, Top Gun: Maverick, which was to have been released in June, will now skip a planned December date in favour of next July.
New Zealand has links to these woes but can also offer normal conditions to film in. James Cameron's next Avatar movie has been delayed a year. Some filming is being done here, and Weta Digital is involved in the production.
Mulan, by Whale Rider director Niki Caro, was set for release next month. On Friday a Walt Disney Studios spokesman said: "Over the last few months, it's become clear that nothing can be set in stone when it comes to how we release films during this global health crisis, and today that means pausing our release plans for Mulan as we assess how we can most effectively bring this film to audiences."
At least some mainstream films may follow Tenet with a staggered release around the world, although that runs the risk of piracy and spoilers. Russell Crowe's film Unhinged is a new addition to cinemas this week.
"We are not treating Tenet like a traditional global day-and-date release," said a Warner Bros official.
In the US, some cinemas have opened to show recent and old films. AMC Theatres, which runs more than 600 cinemas in the US, has been closed since mid-March. Los Angeles is a major domestic market, but California is among states experiencing a coronavirus surge.
Some films have been released on streaming services. The growing clout of Netflix – with more big-name stars and directors making films for the platform – has only been underlined during the pandemic.
According to the Hollywood Reporter, the North American box office was worth US$11.4 billion last year compared to US$30.8 billion for international markets.
In the movie industry, as in other parts of life, business and politics, major regions of the world are waiting for the US to get its act together over the pandemic.
Should more film companies decide that the US will have to follow the rest of the world on big movie releases for now, New Zealand could find itself near the front of the queue.