After a surprisingly strong start of $ 53 million overseas, “Tenet” landed in the United States last weekend and made $ 20 million more low-key in its debut. It’s by far the biggest domestic haul yet for a new release during the pandemic, but the mediocre results don’t emphatically signal that the box office will be back to normal soon.
Now, the film industry remains divided over whether or not ‘Tenet’ ticket sales justify the release of big budget films before the coronavirus wanes or a vaccine becomes widely available.
And with a blurry picture of a film’s business prospects, Warner Bros., the studio behind “Tenet,” and its rivals are faced with what could be a multi-million dollar decision: Stick to the release dates for upcoming blockbusters. slated for 2020, or continue to delay buzzing titles until big cities can reopen theaters.
Part of the ambiguity is that no one really knows how to assess the results of “Tenet”. Of course, in ordinary times, $ 20 million would be a disastrous result for a Nolan film. But these are not ordinary times.
Key markets like New York and Los Angeles still haven’t opened theaters. This has probably reduced ticket sales by the millions. And areas of the country where cinemas have been able to reopen have had to limit their ability to comply with physical distancing measures. Add to that the caution on the part of customers who are probably hesitant to return to public spaces, and it’s hard to decipher whether $ 20 million is a solid result or a sign that ‘Tenet’ would have been better off waiting longer. to open up to the country.
“We’re used to watching opening weekend,” said Shawn Robbins, chief analyst at Boxoffice Pro. “We have to look at the box office differently [now]. After a few weeks we might have a better idea of the long term. ”
Without too much competition on the horizon, Warner Bros. hopes “Tenet” enjoys a longer than usual run on the big screen to help recoup his massive $ 200 million budget. Ticket sales for the film have so far generated $ 150 million worldwide. It needs to make around $ 400 million in box office revenue globally to break even and come close to $ 450 million to turn a profit.
The problem is, Hollywood may not have time to watch the long-term fate of “Tenet” unfold before having to make a decision on other upcoming titles.
For now, “Wonder Woman 1984” is the next big movie slated to hit theaters in the US. The comic book adventure, also from Warner Bros., is slated to hit the big screen on October 2, but there has been a suspicious lack of promotion for the film. Perhaps this is a sign that “Wonder Woman 1984” may soon be postponed again.
“Wonder Woman” is an extremely important franchise for Warner Bros., which means the decision on its release date won’t be taken lightly. Studios often roll out campaigns for big movies about six weeks in advance – so time is already running out for the superhero sequel starring Gal Gadot. By the time the Burbank field executives have a better understanding of “Tenet” box office performance, they will already have had to make a decision on what to do with “Wonder Woman”.
Some analysts believe that it doesn’t make sense to move forward with the tentpoles until the country’s two biggest movie markets are back in business.
“As we saw with the lackluster debut of ‘Tenet’ – New York and Los Angeles are the sun and moon of the solar system at the box office,” said Jeff Bock, box office analyst at Exhibitor Relations. “If the market does not develop significantly, they would be reckless to release ‘Wonder Woman 1984’ the same way as ‘Tenet’.”
Other studios are also planning to unveil high-profile films in theaters this year. Disney’s James Bond “No Time to Die”, “Black Widow” and “Soul” and Denis Villeneuve’s star-studded adaptation “Dune” are among the films slated for release in the coming months.
A sign of optimism: Many countries are ahead of the United States in their reopening plans, and some – like China – have already seen substantial box office returns. If “Wonder Woman 1984” keeps its release date, box office analysts suggest overseas markets could help save ticket sales.
But there’s a reason North America is a pivotal market for most movies. Studios receive more profit from exhibitors in the United States than internationally. China, for example, only gives a quarter of ticket sales to studios, less than half of what Hollywood companies would normally do in the United States. With “Tenet” in particular, Warner Bros. gets over 60% of domestic ticket sales, which is much higher than his usual salary. However, it’s unclear how splits will work for future versions.
“The United States and Canada have always been the # 1 market for a reason. I think studios can get away with this for a while, but eventually they’ll have to find a way to generate revenue through multiple streams, ”Bock said, referring to premium video-on-demand platforms.
Movie theater owners remain optimistic that other cities will soon be granted permission to reopen, in turn helping to justify plans to quash blockbuster hopes. Already, parts of California have been given the green light. When New York theaters can resume operations, that will be “a big milestone,” said Patrick Corcoran, vice president and director of communications for the National Association of Theater Owners, the premier lobbying arm of the entertainment industry. ‘exposure.
“The major markets that have yet to open are all areas where a Christopher Nolan film would do well,” Corcoran noted. “More open, there is a real lead for ‘Tenet’ to continue to do well.”
Cinemark CEO Mark Zoradi said 70% of the movie chain’s 525 US sites reopened in time for “Tenet”. He estimates opening weekend revenue would have been closer to $ 30 million if the California and New York sites had been able to accommodate customers.
“There is clearly progress being made,” Zoradi said. “We expect ‘Tenet’ to have an unusual playing model compared to your typical movie, as new theaters will open every week. ”
Since Brock Bagby, executive vice president of family-owned theater chain B&B Theaters, was able to reopen venues in July, he’s seen a “drastic increase” in attendance every week.
“We were very happy with the results,” Bagby said of the attendance rate for “Tenet” in its theaters. “It was really strong for us so we were encouraged. Customers were really excited to be back to see a new movie. ”
In the meantime, the challenge facing other exhibitors is reminding audiences not only that cinemas are open, but that they can be safely revisited during a global health crisis. This can help studios gauge the popularity of films.
“Studios are looking very carefully at how theaters perform in particular markets,” Corcoran said. “’Tenet’ can play alone for a while. But at some point there must be films for the public to see. “