Paul Dergarabian declined the ethical gratuitous within Tenet !

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

To be fair, there is also some positive news amid the muted disappointment. Overseas, Tenet has earned more than $177 million. It has earned less than $30 million in the U.S. since opening on September 3—but that’s with theaters in New York and Los Angeles still closed. Yet as Indiewire pointed out, locations elsewhere in California contributed three of Tenet’s top five grosses over the weekend—including two theaters in Orange County. That’s proof, perhaps, that once theaters reopen in key cities, Tenet will be an even larger success. According to Warner Bros., Tenet grossed $6.7 million over the weekend, a mere 29% dip from its opening weekend frame.

But even that solid hold is in the eye of the beholder. The nation added 100 additional open theaters to its ranks this weekend (including in New Jersey, which only just unshuttered theaters), meaning Tenet had the potential to reach even more customers. Yet it still saw a drop in ticket sales. In fact, overall theater traffic was largely nonexistent. Sony debuted Broken Hearts Gallery in 2,204 theaters for an opening gross of a reported $1.1 million, a figure that breaks down to less than $500 per venue.

Over Labor Day weekend, as Warner Bros. reported Tenet’s debut (widely cited as $20 million, though that figure accounts for a week of Canadian ticket sales and also stretched to also include late August preview screenings in America), a studio spokesperson sought to contextualize the data by pointing out that there is no precedent for opening a blockbuster during a global pandemic in which theater capacity has been limited, even in cities where venues are open. “We are in unprecedented territory, so any comparisons to the pre-COVID world would be inequitable and baseless,” the rep said. Another studio source recently told Variety that comparing Tenet to other movie releases is like comparing “apples to kumquats.”

When properly contextualized, though, these numbers may actually look even worse. With little marquee product arriving in theaters between now and the end of October—after Wonder Woman 1984 ran away from its October 2 opening, Universal pushed the October 16 debut of Candyman to an undetermined date in 2021; in theory, the next “big” release is Death on the Nile on October 23—theaters have been left in “dire straits,” as Indiewire noted in its box office report. “This weekend, the average complex grossed under $5,000 (before concessions),” reporter Tom Brueggemann pointed out. “More than half of that goes to film rentals. They have staff and other operational costs to pay, as well as rent to landlords. Theaters have a stronger hand in negotiating rent if they’re closed. Once open, they owe, and now they face weeks of operation at a significant loss.”

Then there are the studios themselves. On Twitter, journalist Mark Harris wondered when studios will just give up the ghost on theatrical runs, as long as the pandemic continues. “You can put all kinds of asterisks on Tenet—nothing to compare it to, reduced capacity, iffy word of mouth—but the number is the number,” he wrote. “Studios don’t make $200M movies in order to gross under $50M in the U.S. So I think we’re looking at either more VOD streaming or release dates postponed indefinitely. But my guess is that the industry is pretty much done with the denialist game playing of ‘We’re going to move this back by 2 or 3 weeks.’ That was always wishful thinking; it’s now flat-out delusion.”

Maybe it always was. Back in the early days of the pandemic, industry insiders believed that once theaters reopened, audiences would flock back. “At some point, this crisis will clear, and the movies will most certainly be released. At that point, I think there will be a pent-up demand,” box office analyst Paul Dergarabian told Vanity Fair in March. “If you’ve been sequestered indoors for weeks or even months, once there is some kind of normalcy restored, I think there’s going to be an intense interest in these outside-the-home activities.” Based on the few “butts in seats” who have braved the pandemic to see Tenet, that bet still seems likely, assuming theaters can stay in business that long.

But with coronavirus cases currently rising in 11 states and the looming threat of the health crisis worsening in the fall and winter, the pandemic, it seems, is not something even the greatest Hollywood minds can wish away—a fact that seems likely to erase what little is left of the release calendar. Last week, Deadline suggested that Disney may push Black Widow off its November 6 release date, and could potentially debut Pixar’s upcoming film Soul on Disney+. (The animated film is currently set for a theatrical bow on November 20.) Moving those films would leave the James Bond movie No Time to Die, set for November 20, as the next blockbuster out in theaters—nine weeks from now. For venue owners and studios who rely on theatrical releases, the hope now has to be that 007’s latest title is somehow prophetic.

The actress and producer is launching a weekday talk show, distributed by CBS Television.