Tenet kicks off with US$20m in US, nears US$150m globally

LOS ANGELES – After months of delays, Christopher Nolan’s sci-fi epic Tenet finally arrived in US theatres and generated US$20.2 million (S$27.6m) over the Labor Day weekend.

Ticket sales, though difficult to dissect given the uncharted waters of the coronavirus era, are roughly in line with expectations for a new release during a pandemic.

The espionage thriller is already nearing the US$150 million mark globally, thanks to a stronger showing at the international box office. 

Overseas, Tenet earned another US$78.3 million over the weekend, bringing its worldwide haul to US$146.2 million.

Warner Bros., in a note Sunday afternoon to press, said the studio was “very pleased” with initial results, stressing that the rollout of Tenet will be “a marathon not a sprint” – meaning it doesn’t need splashy inaugural weekend grosses to justify its release.

“There is literally no context in which to compare the results of a film opening during a pandemic with any other circumstance,” the studio said. 

“We are in unprecedented territory, so any comparisons to the pre-Covid world would be inequitable and baseless.” 

“With a significant number of key US states and cities still closed, this is a fair opening,” said David A. Gross, a box office analyst at FranchiseRe. 

“Business in the US is improving, but large numbers of moviegoers are not back yet. For now, this is as good as it gets.” 

Tenet was able to play in about 2,800 cinemas across the country, a smaller footprint than normal for a wide release of this size. 

But Warner Bros. is banking on it being enough to rationalise unspooling the mega-budgeted film after months of delays.

Currently, about 65 to 70 per cent of multiplexes in the US have reopened, though influential markets like New York City, Los Angeles, Seattle and San Francisco are still off limits. That likely shaved millions of dollars off of Tenet’s grosses.

Warner Bros. domestic distribution chief Jeff Goldstein said the studio opted to forge ahead with the release of Tenet given its appeal to overseas audiences.

“As a strategy, we looked at this movie and said (ticket sales will be) two-thirds international and one-third domestic,” he said. 

“Clearly the rest of the world was in a better place in terms of figuring out how to move forward.”

“Though the box office trajectory in North America will look quite different for Tenet than in the international marketplace, the film may actually see its fortunes rise in the coming weeks as more and more cities open their multiplex doors,” said Paul Dergarabedian, a senior media analyst with Comscore.

Tenet, led by John David Washington and Robert Pattinson, cost US$200 million to make – and many millions more to globally promote. 

That means the time-bending thriller needs to pull in robust ticket sales to turn a profit. Audiences gave the film a “B” CinemaScore, lower than usual for Nolan’s filmography.

But without much competition from other Hollywood movies, Warner Bros. is optimistic that Tenet will play in theatres for months to come. - REUTERS

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