Box office: ‘Tenet’ is still hiding key details, as ‘Mulan’ disappoints in China
For all of his love of time-shifting scenarios, director Christopher Nolan never could have imagined the delayed roll-out for his film “Tenet.” Since the COVID-19 pandemic has upended all semblance of normalcy, “Tenet” has been put in the uncomfortable position of serving as a bellwether for audience attitudes toward a return to cinema-going.
This is why, in its second weekend of U.S. release, Warner Bros. continues to strategically parcel out data about “Tenet’s” performance — forgoing standard daily breakdowns in favor of lump weekend grosses — as newly opened Orange County theaters and an expansion to Los Angeles-area drive-ins have managed to buoy the film’s domestic performance.
The espionage thriller starring John David Washington added $37.3 million across 50 markets worldwide last week for a global cumulative of $207 million, according to estimates from measurement firm Comscore. That includes a modest $6.7 million weekend in North America, where the cumulative total has hit $29.5 million across 2,910 locations for a per-screen average of $2,302.
Despite indoor cinemas in Los Angeles County remaining shuttered, Southern California was the biggest U.S. market for the film over the weekend as it debuted in newly opened indoor theaters in Orange County (after opening in San Diego theaters last week) as well as at drive-in locations throughout the Southland. The AMC Orange, the Regal Irvine Spectrum and Paramount Drive-In Los Angeles were among the top grossing locations for the film nationwide. Though approximately 30% of the North American marketplace remains closed, including most of Los Angeles, and parts of New York and San Francisco, Nolan fans from Los Angeles seemed more than willing to drive to see “Tenet.”
“We, as Angelenos, are truly part of a car culture,” said Paul Dergarabedian, a senior media analyst for Comscore. “So it’s no surprise that if people drove great distances over the summer to go to drive-ins, they would not hesitate to drive from L.A. County to Orange County to have their first crack at a brick-and-mortar movie theater experience since last March. Considering reduced capacity is in play, it makes it even more impressive that likely most of the available seats, though obviously fewer of them than in ‘normal’ times, were snapped up by enthusiastic moviegoers.”
Last week, Comscore released a survey meant to gauge just how eager moviegoers were to return to hardtop theaters. Sixty percent of more than 3,000 moviegoers polled between Aug. 21 and Sep. 6 said that their experience was favorable and that they were “glad to be back at the movies.” More than half of those polled said they were motivated to get back into normal routines and to “socialize with friends and family.”
“What the survey shows is that movie fans are fans of the big screen experience,” said Dergarabedian. “They were really just excited to go back to the theater and see that health and safety measures were obvious and enforced. And a new Christopher Nolan film is clearly a huge incentive.”
“Tenet“ opened Sept. 3 with a reported $20-million U.S. box office — with some caveats: Results included the full four-day Labor Day holiday weekend gross, a full week of grosses for Canada (where the film was released a week before the U.S. opening), three nights of previews in the U.S. and Thursday’s opening night grosses in the U.S.
That means that the film’s actual Friday to Saturday weekend debut was less than $10 million, or approximately $9.4 million, when you also figure in the studio’s self-reported 29% drop for the current Friday to Sunday frame.
Pre-pandemic, a 29% drop would have been considered scant. But now that films released theatrically are expected to recoup their budgets in a smaller, more unpredictable market, it’s unclear whether Warner Bros. will clear its $200-million investment even after weeks of “Tenet’s” theatrical release. According to the industry trade publication Variety, “Tenet” has to earn “approximately $400 million worldwide to break even and closer to $450 million” to make a profit.
Warner Bros.’ decision to push “Wonder Woman 1984” from an October opening to Christmas can be viewed as a direct response to “Tenet’s” performance so far and hints that Warner Bros. hopes the Nolan movie will have legs as it plays uncontested by other major films until indoor theaters reopen in New York and L.A.
But as “Tenet” continues to do middling business, rival studios are more likely to keep major releases on pause, leaving theaters increasingly challenged to attract moviegoers.
The other film that box office watchers have been tracking is Disney’s live-action “Mulan,” even though it’s not getting a U.S. theatrical release. Although it opened at No. 1 in China, “Mulan” came in below expectations of $25 million to $30 million in the crucial overseas market, instead hitting $23.2 million for an international cumulative of $37.6 million. The film is being released only in markets that do not have the Disney+ streaming service, where it is currently available as a PVOD purchase for subscribers. It has also been the subject of multiple controversies.
Elsewhere this weekend, Sony opened the young adult-skewing romantic comedy “The Broken Hearts Gallery” to $1.1 million across 2,204 locations. Although the studio did not report daily grosses over the weekend — a departure from the industry standard — it did break out daily numbers on Sunday, unlike Warner Bros. with “Tenet.”
IFC released the low-budget thriller “Rent-a-Pal” in 56 locations to $20,000 for a per-screen average of $357.
Among key holdovers, 20th Century Studios’ “The New Mutants” added $2.1 million in its third weekend, for a North American cumulative of $15.3 million.
In an example of the various ways films are released these days, the Janelle Monáe horror “Antebellum” will hit select theaters on Friday in addition to PVOD; the Stacey Abrams voting rights documentary “All In” launches on Amazon on Friday after a limited theatrical run; the thriller “The Devil All the Time,” starring Tom Holland, Robert Pattinson, Riley Keough and Sebastian Stan, arrives Wednesday on Netflix: and IFC will unveil the Jude Law Sundance drama “The Nest” on Friday in markets where theaters are open.
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