Tenet hits $273m globally despite lacklustre US box office

LOS ANGELES – Christopher Nolan’s Tenet crossed the US$200 million (S$273m) 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 Sunday.

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 to 75 per cent of theatres in the US have reopened, but major markets like New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco 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 the coronavirus appears to be more under control and movie theatres have reopened 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 theatres despite the fact that 90 per cent of its cinemas have reopened. - REUTERS