Hollywood has been expecting this weekend for a while. Warner Bros. revealed at the end of July that Christopher Nolan’s Tenet would be released domestically on 3 September, and immediately everyone prepared to treat the launch as a litmus test to assess the potential for theatre releases in what remains of 2020.
Now the numbers are on the big screen in America from the first three days of the thriller-and the results can be characterized as average given the current circumstances.
As per Box Office Mojo, Tenet played in 2,810 theatres last weekend (presumably all of them taking proper precautions and following safety protocols) and the final figures show that the film was worth $20.2 million. Obviously, there is an asterisk to add to the greater circumstances of the moment, but the figures make Christopher Nolan’s third-worst domestic debut – the silver liner being that he made more than The Prestige in 2006 (which made $15 million) and the Memento in 2000 (which made $235,000 in limited release).
That three-day drag, particularly from the first three days of a four-day weekend, doesn’t look like much when it’s taken into account that the film was produced with a budget of $200 million (not counting publicity and advertisement costs), but there’s still a potential for the film to be profitable thanks to its success abroad. Tenet has had early releases in several international markets beginning at the end of August, and adding to those grosses means that the product has made it to the worth of $146 million worldwide.
And to put it simply, now that critics have seen what Tenet has been able to do in his debut weekend, there will be more analysis in the weeks ahead to assess what kind of legs the film has. Would people want to see it as it begins to play on the big screen, or will the figures simply be frontloaded?
The reason Tenet will continue to receive a great deal of publicity is that studios are expected to make a significant difference in their numbers while still considering making major movies between now and the end of December. Warner Bros. alone has Wonder Woman 1984 (currently dated October 2) and Dune (December 18) scheduled to be published in what remains of 2020, but there are also major examples including Disney’s Black Widow (November 6) and United Artists’ No Time To Die (November 20) keeping firm on their respective calendar dates.
There is a point of no return for any of these films – that is, a deadline where the studios will have to make a decision whether or not to go on with their ads and marketing campaigns for a certain deadline. There will be several titles that end up blinking, either by changing their release dates or making streaming / PVOD plans, but it wouldn’t be shocking, at the very least, to see some movies that reflect Christopher Nolan’s ideology and stay consistent in big-screen plans.
Many who track box office figures on a regular basis may know that it’s typical for a film to drop anywhere between 40 and 60 percent from the first to the second week, which means that normal conditions may indicate that Tenet would make $8-12 million next Friday-to-Sunday, but we’ll just have to wait and see if that trend can or may not be remedied by the pandemic. You can be sure that next week we’re going to have another box office article about what’s going on.