TENET $20 Million Debut Solid, Under The Circumstances (FILM NEWS)

Opening weekend box office for TENET may not be blockbuster, but it shows that people are ready to go back to the theater.

Christopher Nolan‘s new epic spy thriller may not be the savior of cinema, but it sure looks a lot like a prophet.

Tenet, which opened to $20 million on 2,800 screens in North America over the Labor Day weekend (which includes nightly preview screenings over three pre-release days, plus Canadian receipts since August 26), serves as a strong debut in the midst of an ongoing pandemic, especially when you factor in that theaters in major markets like New York City, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Seattle remain closed.

Not only does the haul eclipse the previous weekend’s winner by nearly three-fold (The New Mutants, $7 million), but the $7,142 per screen average is very encouraging in light of theater capacity limitations that range anywhere from 20% to 50%.

Extrapolating the math out even further, had capacities been at maximum then Tenet could’ve earned somewhere in the $37 million to $40 million range. Or if you increased the screen count from 2,800 to Dunkirk‘s 3,720 (Nolan’s previous film) the total would pop to $53 million.

Dunkirk opened to $50 million three years ago with no pandemic restrictions so, basically, Tenet‘s box office debut falls right in line with what Warners Bros. should expect from a non-franchise, original Nolan title.

Further bolstering its bottom line, Tenet is nearing $150 million worldwide in a global market that’s facing the same kind of restrictions as seen in the U.S.

Simultaneously, audiences were given the option to stay home to watch Mulan on Disney+; it opened exclusively on the streamer this past Friday for a “premier access” markup of $30. Disney has yet to release viewing data for how widely Mulan has been seen so far, although it did earn $6 million at theaters internationally in regions where Disney+ isn’t available.

There’s still a long way to go before Nolan’s reportedly $200 million movie (plus marketing) is actually profitable but, as Warners execs have emphasized, the box office run for Tenet is a marathon, not a sprint. Success will be determined over weeks and months, not the typical days and weeks.

If subsequent weekends over the next month-plus see smaller-than-average drop-offs, it will confirm a positive trend showing that audiences are willing to leave their homes and show up at theaters again. The only difference now is that they’ll be doing that spread out over time rather than in a big initial opening rush (as is common for major blockbusters).

And if Tenet can indeed perform that consistently, it will embolden studios to stick with the big release dates they currently have slated for the rest of 2020; among them being Wonder Woman 1984 (October 2), Death on the Nile (October 23), Black Widow (November 6), Soul (November 20), No Time To Die (November 20), Dune (December 18) and West Side Story (December 18).

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