Warner Bros. Distribution Boss Defends ‘Tenet’ Box Office: ‘It’s a 30-Day Opening, Not a 3-Day Opening’

TheGrill 2020: International distribution head Andrew Cripps discusses movie theaters’ COVID-19 crisis

Warner Bros.

Even though numbers for “Tenet” remain low in the U.S. and theaters face several more months of pandemic-fueled turbulence, Warner Bros.’ head of international distribution, Andrew Cripps, on Tuesday defended the film’s box office performance. “If I can use a phrase from our chairman, Toby Emmerich: ‘It’s a 30-day opening, not a three-day opening,’” Cripps said at TheWrap’s virtual 2020 edition of TheGrill. “We’re in the fourth week and it’s important to note that as of Sunday we’ve broken $250 million internationally. When you do the math, that’s roughly 30 million people coming to see the movie in theaters, which is remarkable considering the situation we are in right now.” Cripps was joined on the panel about the state of theatrical distribution by Alamo Drafthouse CEO Shelli Taylor, Skydance President/COO Jesse Sisgold, and filmmakers Brad Bird (“The Incredibles”) and Antoine Fuqua (“Training Day”). The panel was moderated by Greg Foster, former CEO of IMAX Entertainment and owner/principal of consulting firm Foster + Crew. So far, “Tenet” has grossed less than $40 million in the U.S., with the vast majority of its grosses coming overseas. Though 75% of domestic theaters have reopened, major cities like New York and Los Angeles have yet to allow theaters to resume business. Cripps said that this uneven reopening has been the case on a global scale as well, with some markets rebounding well while others have not. “We’ve released ‘Tenet’ in 54 countries, and each market is in a different timeline in terms of how they are handling this virus,” he said. “While the U.K. is now facing a second wave, much of the European market has rebounded a lot faster than the U.S. and we’re especially seeing stronger numbers in France, Germany and Russia.” “In Asia, we see countries like China and Korea rebounding, and even Taiwan has done so well handling the virus that theaters there didn’t even close to begin with,” he said. But at the same time, there are other countries like India and the Philippines that are still closed, so every country is a unique story.” “Tenet” will not have much competition for several weeks provided that theaters stay open. Warner Bros. and Universal have postponed the two major films scheduled for October release, “Wonder Woman 1984” and “Candyman,” leaving theaters without another major release until “Black Widow” on November 6. Taylor said that for Alamo Drafthouse, the lack of major new releases has forced her cinema chain to “fight for survival” like other exhibitors, but the premium dine-in company has some unique qualities to fall back on. “We’re fortunate that our customers have a very diverse taste,” she said. “Last year we screened over 2,000 titles — classic films, documentaries, indie films — and people have shown up. They value that theatrical experience and they want something special when they go to see a movie on the big screen.” Cripps agreed that making the theatrical experience special will be critical to getting audiences back into theaters whenever the pandemic subsides, and that the numbers he’s seen for “Tenet” reflect that. “People have a desire after being cooped up for so long to get out of the home, but they’ve gravitated especially to the premium formats,” he said. “I know that’s partly because of Christopher Nolan and the work that he’s done with IMAX and their cameras, but I also think it’s because people want their time at the theater to be something that they can’t replicate in their own homes; so I think that not just premium formats but also luxury seats and other perks will be important going forward.” For over a decade, TheWrap’s Grill event series has led conversations on the convergence between entertainment, media and technology, bringing together newsmakers to debate the challenges and opportunities facing content in the digital age. This’s year’s event is a digital-first experience that focuses on the future of theatrical, streaming revolution, building inclusion from within and the growth in podcasting and gaming. Attendees will have access to keynotes, panel conversations, roundtable discussions and virtual networking.


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