‘Tenet’ Finally Opens Stateside: Warner Bros. Movie Resuscitates Exhibition With $20M+ Over Labor Day Weekend, $150M WW To Date

Warner Bros. long-awaited Christopher Nolan movie Tenet finally opened in the US, and together with its Canadian run, which began last weekend, rang up $20.2M to date at 2,810 theaters. All-in, the time travel, 2 1/2 hour spy thriller has clocked almost $150M to date.

Since movie theaters closed down nationwide because of the pandemic – in particular, the top 3 big circuits – Tenet has long been heralded as the comeback of theaters, the tentpole that will get exhibition back on its feet.

There is no context for these numbers, as it’s not your typical Labor Day weekend release. We’re just beginning to realize what it’s like to see a tentpole opening in motion in a world where eight of the top ten theaters from Nolan’s last movie, Dunkirk, aren’t open, i.e. cinemas in Los Angeles, San Francisco and New York.

Even Cinemascore, which typically polls theaters in Washington, New York, and California, is off-kilter, with the Nolan movie earning a B; the director typically earns a B+ or A. Remember, only 65% of the domestic marketplace is open, with auditorium capacities ranging from 25% to 40%. I drove four hours from LA to see Tenet in San Diego, CA at an AMC that had full COVID-19 safety protocols. Here’s what it was like.

Warner Bros.

Tenet has a 79% Rotten Tomatoes audience score, and a 74% RT rating. That latter rating needs to be taken with a grain of salt, as Los Angeles and New York critics weren’t cleared to see the movie in advance since the pic wasn’t opening in their market. As such, media outlets in those markets had to tap freelancers to see the film, yielding a wide range of responses. Even advance tickets sales aren’t a clear barometer, even though everyone is going ticketless in the COVID-19 era. Big presale hubs San Francisco, LA, and NYC are closed down. Recently, Movio told us that Tenet presales were outstripping Dunkirk and Interstellar in the US, UK and Australia.

Warners opted for an 11-day opening, starting in Canada, on Tenet at the domestic box office, leading into the Labor Day weekend, working up traffic with early previews this week. It’s a solid number when you come to think about it, and the best grosses we’ve seen from a movie to date during the pandemic, higher than the 10-day on Disney/20th Century Studios’ New Mutants ($11.6M to date, after a $2.9M weekend), and Solstice Studios’ Unhinged which has been in release for four weeks.

If you want to know how to open a tentpole during the pandemic without NY and LA, here’s the playbook, which Warner Bros. just wrote; a reverse of the old 1970s platforms where big pics would open in those major city markets and make their way across the US from there. Also, we need to take into account that it is Labor Day weekend, and even though we didn’t have a summer blockbuster season, audiences are distracted as usual with barbecues and beaches.

Drive-ins in Los Angeles were impact by 100-degree heat. But in places like San Diego, where it was a humid 93 degrees, it created foot traffic. We heard that Tenet was No. 1 in Canada last weekend, some estimating that the movie made around $2.5M.

Tenet here in the states made $2.8M from 272 Imax auditoriums though Monday, repping the large format exhibitor’s largest Labor Day opening ever, despite LA, NY, and San Francisco being closed. The figure reps 14% of Tenet‘s domestic number. The movie was shot by Nolan with Imax cameras. Only two of the top ten (and seven of the top 20) IMAX screens for Dunkirk‘s domestic opening weekend were open this weekend for Tenet. 

In the lead-up to Tenet, Warner Bros. received some great luck in such states as Maryland, New Jersey, and markets like San Diego reopening. There is a chance we’ll see San Francisco reopened next weekend. It wasn’t uncommon to hear many circuits rushing to reopen, AMC ‘s San Diego Fashion Valley reopening four days after given the all-clear on Monday (thought the venue has been prepping since late June).

Tenet played in Imax, Dolby and motion-seats. The movie is playing on a majority of screens at the average multiplex. Some independent chains we’re told are being charged a 63% rental by the studio, and that’s for the entire run of the Nolan movie (expected to be 12 weeks). Currently, Warner Bros.’ Wonder Woman 1984 is the next big movie on Oct. 2, unless it moves. Then it’s Universal/MGM’s Candyman on Oct. 16, 20th, Disney’s Death on the Nile on Oct. 23, and Disney’s Black Widow, which was part of the Tenet‘s pre-show trailers yesterday on Nov. 6. Exhibition will really need Black Widow, so Disney, please don’t pull a Mulan and send that pic to Disney+.

Disney hasn’t reported Mulan Disney+ revenue figures, and I imagine they won’t until an earnings call, together with the pic’s overseas box office. This weekend, the Niki Caro-directed movie opened to $5.9M from Croatia, Czech Rep, Middle East, Slovakia, Turkey, Malaysia, Singapore, Taiwan, and Thailand.

Disney

Mulan opened at #1 in UAE and #2 in Saudi Arabia, posting an estimated $800K in each market. UAE’s opening weekend was +6% ahead of Cinderella and +31% ahead of Tenet (F/S/S). Saudi Arabia’s opening, meanwhile, was +153% ahead of Aladdin, +5% ahead of Maleficent: Mistress of Evil and just -18% below Tenet (F/S/S). Both markets have capacity restrictions in the 30%-50% range. Mulan opened at #1 in Malaysia, Singapore, and Thailand, posting the biggest opening weekend to date in 2020 in both Singapore and Thailand. The movie also opened at #2 in Taiwan. All four markets currently have over 90% of theaters open, but the overall market was down vs this time last year in Malaysia (-75%), Singapore (-35%) and Thailand (-23%), while +41% up in Taiwan. Capacity restrictions exist in each of the four markets except for Taiwan.

Rival industry sources with knowledge of PVOD are figuring that Disney may not have earned great presales on Disney+ for Mulan, where the pic was available for $29.99. The studio quickly announced it would be free in early December on the service, and all eyes are watching to see how quickly the film floats to Amazon and GooglePlay services before that free-date. With Disneyland still not open, and other parks still not at their full capacity, Disney needs to make money any way they can, and CEO Bob Chapek told investors Mulan wasn’t creating some new window.

Disney

20th Century Studios/Disney’s New Mutants was No. 2 at the weekend box office with $2.9M (-59%) over 3-days on 2,754 locations, and $3.5M for the 4-day with $12.2M through Monday.

Solstice’s Unhinged in week 4 overall at 2,402 locations grossed $1.67M for 3-days (-36%), $2.045M over 4, for a $11.67M total through Monday.

Searchlight’s The Personal History of David Copperfield grossed $361K (-24%) at 1,550 theaters, $470K over 4 days for a running 11-day total of $1.1M.

Paramount’s The Spongebob Movie: Sponge On The Run in weekend 4 grossed $345K (-19%) at 304 Canada locations, with $475K over four-days for a running total of $3.6M through Monday.

LD Entertainment and Roadside Attractions Words On Bathroom Walls now in weekend 3 earned $282K on 1,168 screens, for an estimated per screen average of $242, $350K over 4, and a cume through Monday of $1.6M.