'Tenet' hits US$200m globally, despite lacklustre US box office

A billboard for Christopher Nolan's film 'Tenet' on the Sunset Strip in West Hollywood, California August 19, 2020. — AFP pic
A billboard for Christopher Nolan's film 'Tenet' on the Sunset Strip in West Hollywood, California August 19, 2020. — AFP pic

LOS ANGELES, Sept 14 — Christopher Nolan's Tenet crossed the US$200 million mark globally, even as US cinemas struggle to draw audiences during the pandemic.

The time-bending sci-fi thriller generated US$6.7 million in its second weekend of release, representing a 29 per cent drop compared to opening weekend. Last weekend, Warner Bros, the studio behind Tenet, touted a US$20 million debut.

But a closer dissection of those numbers reveal they were heavily spun to include weekday preview screenings and the long holiday weekend. In reality, Tenet only made about US$9 million between Friday and yesterday.

In an attempt to control 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 wants to ensure that reporters and rivals don't unfairly contextualise the results and label them a financial flop. But a sign of the studio's confidence in the viability of moviegoing? Not even a week after Tenet premiered, Warner Bros delayed its comic book sequel Wonder Woman 1984 from October to Christmas Day.

Roughly 65-75 per cent of theatres in the US have reopened, but major markets like New York, Los Angeles and San Fransisco still remain closed. Cinemas that have resumed business have done so at reduced capacity, automatically limiting ticket sales.

Warner Bros said it is optimistic about new markets opening for business. Tenet played in 100 more locations than it did last weekend, amounting to 2,910 venues in total — a number that's expected to grow as cinemas in more cities are given permission to reopen. Thanks to multiplexes opening in Orange County, Los Angeles was the top-grossing region in the country this weekend. Dallas, Chicago, Salt Lake City and Phoenix also saw robust ticket sales.

The studio has also been encouraged by the turnout for premium formats, such as Imax and Dolby Cinema. Imax screens have accounted for US$23 million of Tenet's box office haul.

David A. Gross, who runs the movie consulting firm Franchise Entertainment Research, assessed that Tenet had a better-than-expected 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.”

Tenet has made bigger waves overseas, where coronavirus appears to be more under control and movie theaters have reopen to a more significant degree. Part of the reason that Warner Bros. opted to release Tenet during the pandemic is because Nolan's films often make more money internationally than they do stateside.

Ticket sales for Tenet reached US$177.5 million at the international box office and US$207 million globally. Given its US$200 million production budget, the movie needs to reach approximately US$400 million at the worldwide box office to break even and closer to US$450 million to get out of the black.

Tenet brought in US$10 million in China, the world's second biggest moviegoing market, boosting its haul in the country to US$50 million. It landed in second place on box office charts behind Mulan, though neither film amassed inspired ticket sales from Chinese theaters despite the fact that 90 per cent of its cinemas have reopened.

Disney's live-action remake of the 1998 cartoon collected US$23.2 million during opening weekend, an underwhelming result for a movie that was all but engineered for its appeal to Chinese audiences.

So far, Mulan has made US$37.6 million globally. The US$200 million-budgeted fantasy epic is foregoing a theatrical release in the US, and instead is available to rent on Disney Plus for US$30.

Mulan has been mired in controversy for numerous reasons. It came under fire for filming in Xinjiang, a region in China where minorities have been forced to live in labor camps. In the credits for Mulan, the film thanked Chinese government organisations in Xinjiang that have been accused of human rights abuse.

Last year, pro-democracy activists in Hong Kong called for boycotts after Mulan star Liu Yifei showed support for Hong Kong police during anti-government protests.

Among new releases, Sony's romantic comedy The Broken Hearts Gallery made US$1.125 million from 2,204 screens over the weekend. Given the challenging environment, the studio called that number “terrific.” Sony acquired the film for US$8 million, so it doesn't exactly need to reach blockbuster levels to turn a profit.

“Early numbers are encouraging,” said Adrian Smith, Sony's head of domestic distribution. “We're excited to see how the film plays over time and how word of mouth about the film propels it.”

The Broken Hearts Gallery placed behind holdovers Disney's The New Mutants and Solstice Studio's Unhinged on domestic box office charts.

The New Mutants, a poorly reviewed superhero adventure, has yet to find its footing in theatres and generated US$2.1 million over the weekend. The New Mutants is also flailing overseas, where it scraped together US$3.8 million from 36 foreign markets. After three weekends on the big screen, the movie has made US$15.3 million in the US and US$29 million worldwide.

Unhinged, a road-rage thriller starring Russell Crowe, held steady in its fifth weekend, bringing in US$1.5 million over the three-day stretch. That boosts domestic ticket sales to US$13.8 million. — Variety.com/Reuters

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