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Christopher Nolan's Tenet release date, cast, trailer and theories

Christopher Nolan has been around for longer than it seems, but he first gained some name recognition after writing and directing Memento in 2000. Since then, Nolan has continued to build on his reputation for high-concept action films, which he populates with amazing casts and unique, sometimes nonlinear storytelling methods. Nolan's next film is called Tenet, and (surprise!) we don't have a ton of details on it yet.

You see, Nolan is known for his secrecy almost as much as his filmmaking style. The Telegraph writes, "With Nolan, less is always, always more. In fact, if the director had his way, we probably wouldn't even have a release date — he'd most likely prefer to keep the fact he was working on a film completely under wraps, nonchalantly surprising us all a few weeks before its opening."

As such, information on Tenet is scarce. If you're looking for answers, however, you've come to the right place. This is everything important we know so far about Nolan's next release, including some of the popular theories as to what it might actually be about.

What's the release date for Tenet?

Nolan has been pretty consistent with his directorial schedule. Since his first ever feature — Following, which released in 1998 — he generally puts out a new film every two or three years. There have been a few hiccups in there, but he's stayed remarkably close to this pattern. Tenet is no exception, and we know when we'll be able to see it: July 17, 2020.

For now, it looks like Tenet's only competition for that release date is Bob's Burgers: The Movie. There's a good chance the season will produce some surprise heavy hitters, but at least Nolan and company won't face any competition from that elephant in the room in any box office conversation, the Marvel Cinematic Universe. With Black Widow arriving in May and Eternals descending in November, the juggernaut franchise is leaving most of the summer season clear.

Nolan's last film, Dunkirk, released July 21, 2017 — three years before Tenet's release week. This means you can probably expect his next film after Tenet sometime between December 2022 and August 2023.

Who's starring in Tenet?

Christopher Nolan is pretty well known for putting together impressive casts with some of the biggest-name actors out there. That said, Tenet might surprise you a bit with its star. Leading the cast for the film is John David Washington, who has only appeared in a handful of films at this point. As of this writing, his character does not even have a name yet.

It isn't like Washington is a completely unknown or untested actor, however. He has a recurring role as Ricky Jarret on HBO's Ballers, and he has appeared in films like Monsters and Men and The Old Man & the Gun. Oh, and he starred in a little film called BlacKkKlansman, which got him nominated for several acting awards, including a Golden Globe. Fun fact: he's also Denzel Washington's son.

Thanks to BlacKkKlansman, Washington's star is burning very brightly right now. If Tenet is as big a hit as Nolan generally puts out there, Washington's Hollywood clout will only continue to increase.

Is Michael Caine in Tenet?

Chistopher Nolan has a few go-to actors he regularly casts, one of whom is Michael Caine. Caine has appeared in several of Nolan's films: The Prestige, Inception, Interstellar, Dunkirk, and Nolan's Dark Knight trilogy. You can add Tenet to that list as well, as the venerated actor has also secured a role in Nolan's latest — their eighth straight collaboration.

Sir Michael Caine's casting was announced at the same time as another classically trained British actor (and fellow knight), Kenneth Branagh. This will be Branagh's second go-'round with Christopher Nolan: the Shakespearean actor appeared in Dunkirk, Nolan's previous film.

Yes, the streak continues. If you can't imagine a Christopher Nolan film without the dulcet intonations of Michael Caine, then you're in luck. How big of a role he'll play in the film is still unknown, however. There are rumors that he might be playing a familiar character...

Who else is in Tenet's cast?

Actors tend to flock to Nolan's films — the interesting concepts, huge exposure, and the fact that the director generally releases pretty good films makes him a big draw for collaborators. In addition to central lead John David Washington, Nolan staple Michael Caine, and returning thespian Kenneth Branagh, Tenet boasts some serious star power up and down its cast list.

Two of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire's Triwizard champions are cast in Tenet, as both Robert Pattinson (who played Cedric Diggory) and Clemence Poesy (Fleur Delacour) are on board. Labeling them both as "Harry Potter actors" is a bit reductive; each has shown some impressive acting chops outside of that franchise. Since his wizard and vampire days, Pattinson has impressed with his work in films like The Lighthouse and Good Time, and Poesy has shown plenty of range with television roles like The Tunnel and Genius.

There are plenty of other big names attached to Tenet besides those two. Elizabeth Debicki (The Great Gatsby, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2), Aaron Taylor-Johnson (Kick-Ass, Avengers: Age of Ultron), and Himesh Patel (Yesterday) are just a few of the others you'll easily recognize in the cast. And these are just the actors we know about — you can always count on Christopher Nolan to work in a few surprises. Fingers crossed for Cillian Murphy!

The first full trailer for Tenet is here

Right when we thought it might drop, the first trailer for Tenet was released to coincide with Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker. It doesn't give up much in the way of story, but it does show off a lot of the mind-bending action and features some extraordinarily Christopher Nolan music playing in the background.

The trailer mainly focuses on star John David Washington, who is seemingly killed and given a new lease on life for passing a "test." He then is granted (or at least learns to utilize) some techniques that allow him to rewind certain aspects of time. Or possibly see into the future. Again, not a lot of the true plot is revealed. We are told, however, that these abilities will apparently help him "prevent World War III."

The trailer shows a decent amount of Robert Pattinson's character as well, and a few other familiar faces — like Christopher Nolan regular Michael Caine — also make appearances. There looks to be some serious spectacle in Tenet, like the highway chase that we've seen several glimpses of, and it appears to be shaping up to be another blockbuster adventure from Christopher Nolan.

What's the story of Tenet?

Nolan's intense secrecy means we have very little concrete information on what Tenet is actually about. One description of Tenet comes to us from Variety, quoting an insider who says the film is a "massive, innovative, action blockbuster." So... not much there, really. We know the film will screen in IMAX and that it deals with international espionage.

Speaking of international, shooting locations are among the few things we do have some information about. Tenet was filmed in seven different countries across the globe, and all seven are listed on the film's IMDb page. Tenet filmed in Estonia, Italy, India, Denmark, Norway, England, and the United States. What we don't know is if it is actually set in all those countries.

One final detail we know about the story comes from cast member Robert Pattinson. He affirms that Tenet will follow in the footsteps of many of Nolan's previous cerebral titles, telling USA Today, "I've been a little wary of doing big movies for years and years, but there's just something about Chris Nolan's stuff... I read the script and it's unreal." Not much to go on, but "unreal" coming from Pattinson means something.

There are rumors that Tenet could be the same forward and backward

Alright, let's move into speculation territory. One of the biggest theories about Tenet seems like it has to be, at least, partially true due to what we know so far. This theory posits that the film is a giant palindrome.

A palindrome is a word or phrase that is the same forwards and backwards, like toot, racecar, or (gasp!) tenet. Nolan is a director who doesn't dabble much in coincidences and, as Yahoo Entertainment puts it, "the idea of a film that works the same forwards and backwards is so Nolan-esque we're surprised he hasn't done it already."

A few conclusions drawn from set photos help prop up this theory, which suggests the film will start reversing about halfway through, with the characters maintaining the ability to move forward in time. A few on-set clips of cars driving forward and backward down the same street lend a bit of credence to the theory. Nolan has always loved playing with nonlinear storytelling and our concept of reality, so this theory does not seem like too big a stretch. Considering his filmography, he really could pull this concept off.

Could Tenet be a secret Inception sequel?

The most potentially explosive fan theory revolving around Tenet is that it is actually a secret sequel (or at least set in the same universe) as Nolan's 2010 hit Inception. "Fan theory" doesn't even really do this idea justice — even major news outlets like The Hollywood Reporter have lent some credibility to the idea.

There is quite a bit of evidence to support this theory. The taglines about a "new mission" and "new protagonist" seem to hint at a world we've visited before, but with new characters. The "international espionage" aspect of the film, the mind-bending nature of everything... heck, even the rotating logo could be seen as an homage to the top that Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) uses in Inception to discover if he's in the real world or not.

THR speculates that Tenet might just be moderately connected to Inception, and even suggests that Robert Pattinson and Elizabeth Debicki could be playing the grown up versions of Cobb's kids. Maybe that's why character names haven't been released yet — if they listed Michael Caine as "Stephen Miles," it would spoil the surprise.

Tenet is so secretive, not even the cast knows the plot

Yeah, Michael Caine has been in the movie biz long enough that he knows how to keep the hype train moving. That said, the tidbit he dropped about Tenet in a recent interview sounds like just the type of secrecy that director Christopher Nolan is famous for.

Speaking with The Hindu, Caine spoke only a bit about the upcoming film, but what he had to say about it speaks volumes. He said, "[Nolan] is so secretive he won't let me have the script. All I had was one day's work and he gave me my pages. I did my part and shot only with John David [Washington]. I haven't heard anything since."

This quote gives us a few details. For one, Caine's role in the film is extremely small — he only shot for a single day. Secondly, it tells us that Nolan himself is probably one of the few people who actually knows all the twists and turns we can expect from the film, as he even wanted to keep actors and frequent collaborators in the dark!