Christopher Nolan's new film "Tenet" went on general release on Wednesday, with hopes it will entice audiences back to the cinema after months of closure due to the coronavirus outbreak.
"Tenet", a clever blockbuster that slips between espionage and science fiction, is being billed as the film of the summer that operators hope will reboot the beleaguered industry.
A smattering of film buffs turned out for an early showing in London's Leicester Square, including retired animator Romano Modiano.
"I went to see 'Pinocchio' a couple of days ago, I think I was the only one in the cinema. I was glad to have a seat but it was depressing not to have anyone around," he told AFP.
"I am worried. I love the big screen, why should it die?"
Tessa Street, general manager of the Odeon Luxe cinema in Leicester Square, said 61 people had booked for the first screening, and ticket sales looked promising across the country in the coming days.
"We're always excited for a Christopher Nolan film, because they're fantastic," she told AFP, describing it as "the perfect film" to bring back audiences, as cinemas gradually reopen.
"It's really fantastic to bring a film to the big screen that just really demonstrates what cinema is all about. It's a film that needs to be seen on the big screen."
Hollywood megastar Tom Cruise, who is filming near London, tweeted a video of his trip to the cinema on Tuesday to see the film, adding the caption: "Big Movie. Big Screen. Loved it".
- Money spinner? -
After several postponements, the film, which ran to a $200 million (169 million euros) budget, is the first of its kind to dare a release during the pandemic.
In contrast, Disney canned its plan for a big-screen release of "Mulan", preferring instead to run it on digital platforms.
The latest James Bond film "No Time to Die", which was due for release in April, was also postponed and will now go into cinemas in November.
But Warner Bros have faith in Nolan's ability to pull in the crowds -- and with good reason.
His rebooting of the "Batman" films in the shape of the "Dark Knight" trilogy has grossed more than $4 billion.
His last film "Dunkirk", which won three Oscars and had five other nominations, including one for Nolan, cost $100 million and has grossed over $526 million.
"Tenet" was released in more than 70 countries, including most of Europe, Canada, Australia and South Korean.
The US release is planned for September 3 and hopes to capitalise on the important Labor Day weekend.
- Head-scratching -
The BBC has portrayed Nolan -- creator of "Inception" and "Interstellar" -- as a "patron saint" of cinemas.
"The past few weeks have been a reminder, if we needed one, that there are parts of life that are far more important than going to the movies," he wrote in the Washington Post.
"But, when you consider what (movie) theaters provide, maybe not so many as you might think."
"Tenet" appears to be a straightforward spy movie with a secret agent -- John David Washington, seen in "BlacKkKlansman" -- on the heels of an evil Kenneth Branagh who is threatening humanity.
But in true Nolan style there is a twist -- notably, that characters can reverse time.
"This movie is 10 times harder to understand than 'Inception'," a Korean viewer who saw it at the weekend wrote on Twitter. "It's clear that Nolan is a genius."
Given the forward-reverse nature of the story -- some of it at the same time -- there promises to be plenty of head-scratching at the end of an action-packed two and a half hours.
- Pure action -
"Tenet" was shot in seven different countries and features a black hero, something that the decision-makers of the 007 franchise have yet to embrace.
The cast includes Robert Pattinson and Elizabeth Debicki, who plays a scorned woman who regains her freedom, as she did in Steve McQueen's "Widows".
On the pure action front, there are echoes of the explosions of "Heat" or "The Matrix", including an actual -- not computer-generated -- 747 passenger plane blowing up.