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

Movies

Refresh for updates: Warner Bros. long-awaited Christopher Nolan movie Tenet finally opened in the U.S., 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 due to 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.

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 U.S., 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, 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 U.S. 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. 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.

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