‘Tenet’ Slows to $6.7 Million at U.S. Box Office as Theater Reopenings Taper Off

The film’s domestic total sits at just under $30 million – not a good sign for the theatrical market

Last Updated: September 13, 2020 @ 7:40 PM

Warner Bros.’ “Tenet” has crossed the $200 million mark at the global box office, but grosses in the U.S. are beginning to taper off as the wave of reopenings has started to subside.

The Christopher Nolan film has added $6.7 million from 2,910 screens this weekend, serving as a 29% drop from the film’s $9 million Friday-to Sunday total last weekend. Though Warner Bros. reported an estimated $20 million opening over the extended Labor Day weekend, that number was also inflated by several days worth of preview screenings at select locations. Currently, the film’s domestic total sits at just under $30 million.

The numbers come as Warner Bros. and Sony are taking heat from rival distributors for not providing daily box office numbers on “Tenet” and the newly-released romantic comedy “The Broken Hearts Gallery,” data which is crucial to both box office reporting and to distributors trying to gauge the health of the theatrical market for their own releases.

Warner Bros. execs have stressed in calls to reporters that expectations should be lowered given the unprecedented circumstances in which “Tenet” is being released. And rival distributors have told TheWrap that there is a limit to how much prognostication can be made about theaters based on “Tenet”‘s numbers considering that the theatrical landscape is changing every weekend.

Still, the revised context of a $29.5 million performance through two weekends plus previews puts”Tenet” and the overall state of the rebuilding theatrical market in a new light. “Tenet” is still waiting for several major cities, including New York and Los Angeles, to reopen their theaters as its theater count only increased by 100 locations this weekend. Without those cities, a significant portion of the film’s box office potential still has yet to be determined.

Sources tell TheWrap that the film performed particularly well at theaters in Orange County, where theaters reopened with a 25% capacity limit after reaching COVID-19 containment thresholds implemented by California Gov. Gavin Newsom.

Over the past two weekends, moviegoers in major cities have shown a willingness to travel to adjacent counties or states if theaters are not open in their local area. If that interest in the film is being shared by moviegoers who want to see “Tenet” but can’t or don’t want to make that drive, then it is possible that there’s still a good chunk of audience that “Tenet” has yet to tap into.

However, if weekend totals continue to drop in cities like Chicago and Salt Lake City, where theaters have reopened but infection rates are not steadily declining, then it is a serious sign that “Tenet” does not have a strong enough draw to bring audiences aside from hardcore Nolan fans to theaters despite the industry’s efforts to convince the public that they are safe.

If that is the case, “Tenet” will need more time for more cities to reopen and for infection rates to hopefully decline and help restore customer confidence. That is a likely factor in Warner Bros.’ decision to push back the release of “Wonder Woman 1984” from early October to Christmas Day. Without a fellow WB release cannibalizing precious screen space, “Tenet” may still have some time in the coming weeks to leg out if theaters in major markets can open in the fall. Universal responded to the “WW84” move by also moving its own October release, “Candyman,” to 2021.

On the brighter side for “Tenet,” overseas numbers are still looking rather solid as its Chinese grosses increase to $50 million after a $10 million second weekend in that market. Word of mouth is also improving for the film with an 80% approval rating on Comscore/ScreenEngine’s Postrak surveys among this weekend’s audiences, with 65% saying they would “definitely recommend” the film to others By comparison, the film had a 49% “definite recommend” last weekend with a B on CinemaScore, lower than the B+ earned by “Inception” in 2010.