Christopher Nolan’s “Tenet” hit the $200 million mark worldwide (with just $6.7 million in North America this weekend) showing Hollywood that outside of America is where the most is at. “Tenet” had a 29 percent drop compared to the opening weekend.
Warner Bros. was caught doing some heavy spinning last weekend to include weekday preview screenings along with the holiday weekend. Nolan’s latest film actually did $9 million between Friday and Sunday. Quite a difference from the $20.2 the studio declared, even though that was a low number for a Nolan film.
In an attempt to control the conversation around “Tenet’s” box office performance, Warner Bros. has been shielding domestic grosses for the film. Traditionally, studios share box office information on a daily basis, but that hasn’t been the case with “Tenet.” The studio took a bold bet since “Tenet” was the first major movie to debut during the pandemic, and Warner Bros. claims that it wants to ensure that reporters and rivals don’t unfairly contextualize the results and label them a financial flop.Warner Bros. knew the film would have a slow start amid the pandemic, but the studio was clearly hoping that “Tenet” would perform better in the U.S. Want a clue as to how they really view the viability of U.S. theaters right now? Less than a week after “Tenet” premiered domestically, Warner Bros. delayed its comic book sequel “Wonder Woman 1984” from October to Christmas Day.
Roughly 65-75% of theaters in the U.S. have reopened, but major markets like New York, Los Angeles and San Fransisco remain closed. Cinemas that have resumed business have done so at reduced capacity, automatically limiting ticket sales.
Moviegoing audiences in North America are not rushing back to the theater just yet and “Mulan” is also faltering in its China release as the global box office slowly comes back online in the COVID-19 era.
In the second major weekend for U.S. and Canadian movie theaters, Christopher Nolan’s “Tenet” earned only $6.7 million from 2,910 locations, according to studio estimates Sunday. Warner Bros’ sci-fi thriller was viewed as the main litmus test for whether audiences were ready to embrace the theatrical experience again, after nearly six months of shuttered theaters due to the pandemic.
Although it was enough to top the scattershot domestic releases, it also isn’t enough to jumpstart the struggling exhibition industry. Warner Bros. has already pushed back its next major release, “Wonder Woman 1984,” even further. “Dune” hasn’t changed it’s December 18, 2020 release date yet, but with flu-season arriving, we will see how the second wave of Covid-19 affects us.
The weekend’s only major new opener was Sony’s PG-13 rom-com “The Broken Hearts Gallery,” which earned an estimated $1.1 million from 2,204 North American locations. The film, from first-time writer director Natalie Krinsky and executive produced by Selena Gomez, is about a 20-something gallerist played by Geraldine Viswanathan who creates an art exhibit with souvenirs from her past relationships.
The studio is optimistic about its performance and potential.
“The early numbers are really encouraging,” said Adrian Smith, the president of president of Sony Pictures domestic distribution.
Smith noted that the film will have a slow roll out as more theaters continue to open in the U.S.
Roughly two-thirds of the domestic market is open and theaters are operating at limited capacity and with limited showtimes. Two of the country’s biggest markets, New York and Los Angeles, remain closed. Other still-closed markets include North Carolina, Michigan, New Mexico and the cities of Seattle and Portland.
Other notable domestic weekend numbers include Disney’s “The New Mutants,” which added $2.1 million from 2,704 locations in its third weekend and Solstice’s Russell Crowe pic “Unhinged,” which earned an additional $1.5 million in week four. “The New Mutants,” which didn’t fare well with critics has had trouble finding sure footing in theaters. The X-Men spinoff isn’t doing much better overseas.
“Every week is a bit of a litmus test about how potential moviegoers are feeling about going to the theater,” said Paul Dergarabedian, Comscore’s senior media analyst. “I think audiences are slowly going back.”
But, he noted, “you can’t apply the norms of how we analyze or report the box office.”
Comscore has not even been able to report a traditional “Top 10” chart because of the unusual marketplace which Dergarabedian likened to a “relaunch” or a “reboot” of the movie theater.
The landscape is more encouraging internationally, where “Tenet” this weekend added over $30 million, pushing its global total to $207 million.
“Imax has certainly proven to be the perfect cinematic dance partner for ‘Tenet,’” said Paul Dergarabedian, a senior media analyst with Comscore. “Nolan has been working with Imax for years, so it’s indeed appropriate that ‘Tenet’ would get a nice boost from this long-standing creative collaboration.”
David A. Gross, who runs the movie consulting firm Franchise Entertainment Research, assessed that “Tenet” had a better-than-projected hold during its second frame. But he said that still might not be enough to compensate for more pressing limitations facing the marketplace.
“Anecdotally, these drops look slightly better than what would be expected under normal circumstances,” Gross said. “However, they are not close to maintaining a level of business that makes up for the box office lost to the pandemic.”
But new movies are not enough on their own. In China, The Walt Disney Co.’s “Mulan” had a disappointing debut of only $23.2 million. The low launch nonetheless claimed the film the No. 1 spot in the country where an estimated 91% of theaters are open but limited to 50% capacity. The studio noted that its opening is around the same level as “Cinderella” and “Maleficent: Mistress of Evil.”
Globally, “Mulan” has earned $37.6 million to date, although that number is not representative of the total earnings. The live-action epic, which has also been embroiled in controversy over its filming location, is not playing in North American theaters. Instead, it is available for a $29.99 rental on the company’s Disney+ service. The streaming earnings were not made available.
But pre-COVID metrics of success and failure are difficult to apply, especially to the first films out of the gates. And, according to Dergarabedian, it might be that way for a while.
“We are not in a traditional marketplace and we are not in a traditional mode of analyses,” Dergarabedian said. “It’s going to take some time to properly assess the long-term impact of the pandemic.”
One thing that Hollywood has learned, Christopher Nolan alone can’t bring audiences back to theaters.