Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

If all goes to plan, Christopher Nolan's thrice-delayed "Tenet" will be the first blockbuster to receive a proper worldwide theatrical release amid the coronavirus pandemic at the end of this month.

Why it matters: It'll be playing a $200 million game of chicken, hoping to prove that people across the globe are still willing to trek to theaters to see a splashy new movie.

The state of play: Warner Bros. will open "Tenet" in 70 countries, including China, the U.K., Canada and South Korea, on Aug. 26. But it won't see a U.S. release until a week later.

  • As the rest of the world begins to slowly reopen, Hollywood is eager to get rolling again as major releases have been on pause since the pandemic kicked off in March.
  • The current strategy for "Tenet" risks leaving much of the U.S. behind — and could leave a lot of cash on the table for its studio — especially since theaters still aren't open in the movie capitals of New York and Los Angeles.

The big picture: Releasing a major film internationally before it debuts in the U.S. is unusual, but it isn't unprecedented — although the current state of affairs sure is.

  • Marvel has long dropped its movies early internationally, with its president, Kevin Feige, citing increased buzz from box office success as a major benefit, per CinemaBlend.
  • Trying to use an international release for "Tenet" to hype American moviegoers might not work the same way, as the U.S. outbreak is significantly worse than in other developed countries.
  • Even with masks, the crowded, enclosed confines of a movie theater — especially during the movie's two-and-a-half-hour run time — are precisely what health experts say people should avoid. That could put off older patrons, assuming theaters are open at all.

Between the lines: All of this is happening because Nolan is an avowed cinephile who only wants his creation on the big screen, rather than a release that would allow people to watch it at home on demand.

  • Because "Tenet" had already been delayed indefinitely in July before getting put back on the release calendar, there's a chance that all of this is a trial balloon — and the movie might not actually see the light of day until 2021.

The bottom line: Per an IndieWire report, the movie's breakeven point is $800 million. That's a huge sum for a blockbuster to rake in during the best of times — and it's more than the total worldwide grosses of his last two movies "Interstellar" ($690 million) and "Dunkirk" ($525 million).

Go deeper: Summer's hottest blockbusters delayed as coronavirus cases rise

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Updated 3 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

  1. Global: Total confirmed cases as of 3 a.m. ET: 33,642,602 — Total deaths: 1,007,769 — Total recoveries: 23,387,825Map.
  2. U.S.: Total confirmed cases as of 3 a.m. ET: 7,191,061 — Total deaths: 205,998 — Total recoveries: 2,813,305 — Total tests: 103,155,189Map.
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  4. Politics: 7 former FDA commissioners say Trump is undermining agency's credibility
  5. States: NYC's coronavirus positivity rate spikes to highest since June.
  6. Sports: Tennessee Titans close facility amid NFL's first coronavirus outbreak.
  7. World: U.K. beats previous record for new coronavirus cases.
  8. Work: United States of burnout — Asian American unemployment spikes amid pandemic
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Trump announces plan to distribute 150 million rapid coronavirus tests

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Why it matters: The Trump administration has stressed the importance of reopening schools in allowing parents to return to work and jumpstarting the economy.

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Data: Axios/Ipsos survey; Note: Margin of error for the total sample is ±3.2%; Chart: Axios Visuals

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