It’s the weekend that movie studios, theater chains, and moviegoers have seemingly been waiting months to happen: The much anticipated release of Christopher Nolan’s Tenet, starring John David Washington, Robert Pattinson, and Elizabeth Debicki. The anticipation has been far more about the substance of the movie — reviews have been lukewarm but positive (74 percent on Rotten Tomatoes) — and far more about whether American moviegoers would return to theaters in the midst of a pandemic. How well or poorly Tenet does may determine whether studios continue to roll out new products (Wonder Woman 2, Black Widow, and No Time to Die, among others) or if the studios will go back into hibernation until the pandemic ends.
So, how did Tenet do? The film scored $20 million for the four-day Labor Day weekend, which is solid, considering the context in which it has been released. There is a pandemic going on; theaters are not yet opened in the two largest markets, Los Angeles and New York City, in addition to a number of other large markets, like Miami, and theaters are socially distanced. Moviegoers are really just starting to dip their toes in, so a $20 million result, while not impressive, at least met expectations, and remember Tenet will have theaters more or less to itself for the next month. Given the scant number of titles in release this year, it could theoretically remain in theaters until Thanksgiving or beyond. I expect it will have plenty of legs.
Nolan’s Tenet is also playing well overseas, where the threat of the pandemic has subsided in many parts of the world. Tenet did $30.5 million in China over its first weekend, and since its release last weekend, it has already put up over $100 million internationally. In China, Tenet is pacing Dunkirk, so it is clear that the box office is still viable overseas, especially considering that the Chinese historical war drama film, The Eight Hundred, has scored roughly $350 million in mainland China over the last couple of weeks. That’s huge, especially considering that China is operating socially-distanced theaters. It can be done, although the model may mean far fewer titles so that blockbusters like Tenet or Wonder Woman can occupy multiple screenings for weeks at a time (Tenet, for instance, is the only blockbuster title being released before Wonder Woman in October).
Worldwide, the $200 million film has earned $146.2 million after two weekends. While I don’t think the domestic take is cause enough for studios to rush out their huge blockbusters, I do think it financially justifies the release of a few blockbusters from now until the end of the pandemic (the public health question is another matter, entirely). If the film can earn $100 million by October stateside, and another $300 million overseas, I think it’s worth it to release Wonder Woman 2 in October.
While Mulan was released stateside to Disney+ subscribers for $30, it’s still rolling out internationally. It opened in only 5 markets this weekend ahead of next weekend’s release in Russia and China, but it did a decent $5.9 million in Taiwan, Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia, and the Middle East.
Tenet’s entrance has also put a huge dent in last weekend’s release, New Mutants. The good news is, it’s drop was consistent with the second-weekend drop of other X-Men movies. The bad news is, that drop is precipitous, and New Mutants started with only a $7 million weekend. After earning $2.8, it’s looking at big decline in its second weekend, earning now $12 million after 10 days despite adding more theaters in its second weekend. New Mutants might be ushered from theaters very soon, although it may stick around for a few weeks because there’s nothing else playing besides Tenet. Even if Mutants vacates theaters, however, that does not necessarily mean that it will be available on streaming outlets anytime soon. 20th Century licensed the streaming rights to HBO, so it will appear on rival HBO Max before it can be streamed on Disney-owned Hulu. In the meantime, New Mutants isn’t doing much better internationally. It added $4.2 million overseas to bring its worldwide total to $20 million.
Meanwhile, in third place, Unhinged continues to do well in drive-in theaters, adding $1.6 million this weekend to bring its total to $11 million. On Friday, 29 of the top 30 grossing theaters around the country for Unhinged were drive-in theaters, including four of the top six in Los Angeles. Drive-in theaters, I’m sure, would have loved to take advantage of Tenet in places where theaters aren’t open, like Los Angeles, but Warner Brothers put in a very strange restriction, saying that drive-in theaters could not screen Tenet in cities where the movie was not also playing in theaters.
Bill & Ted Face the Music earned another $610,000, and after Labor Day receipts are fully accounted for, it should tap out at around $2.26 million after 11 days on a $25 million budget. Remember, however, that the Bill and Ted sequel is also running concurrently on PVOD, where it’s been the top film for the last two weekends.