What Does TENET’s Opening Weekend Mean for the Success of Future Movies?

Photo by Jake Hills via Unsplash

What Does TENET’s Opening Weekend Mean for the Success of Future Movies?

By Cooper Dowd, Staff Writer

During the pandemic-related delays for Hollywood tentpole movies, all eyes were on the release and success of Warner Bros. TENET to help assess the box office’s future.

The time-bending thriller from Warner Bros. released domestically in the U.S. the weekend of September 3, and exhibitors and studio executives were hoping that the blockbuster movie would provide a decisive answer to the central question plaguing the entertainment business: “Would audiences fill the theaters if coronavirus cases were dropping and it was safe?”

Movieguide® previously reported on the theaters’ closures in March and the potential effects the delays would have upon both the domestic and international box offices. As many major theater chains such as Cinemark and AMC adopted a staggered reopening plan, executives were waiting for what they hoped would be a telling opening weekend for movies like TENET. However, theaters are still debating whether the initial ticket sales justify the release of other movies.  

After a compelling international opening weekend where TENET made a surprising $53 million, the domestic opening weekend turned in a noticeably smaller revenue of $20 million. Although this is the best opening for a movie during the pandemic, there is still a concern for the success of other anticipated releases such as the Warner Bros. movie WONDER WOMAN 1984. Without the full involvement of major markets such as New York City and Los Angeles, there could be continued release delays.

“As we’ve seen with the lackluster TENET debut — New York and L.A. are the sun and moon of the box office solar system,” said Jeff Bock, a box office analyst with Exhibitor Relations. “If the marketplace doesn’t expand significantly, they would be foolhardy to release WONDER WOMAN 1984 in the same manner as TENET.”

However, with 70% of theaters reopening, according to Cinemark CEO Mark Zoradi, for the opening weekend of TENET, Hollywood is hopeful of a slow but steady return to a fruitful box office.  

“There’s clearly progress being made,” Zoradi said. “Our expectation is that TENET will have an unusual play pattern compared to your typical movie because new theaters will be opening up each week.”

Shawn Robbins, the chief analyst at Boxoffice Pro, said that although many people are used to looking at the opening weekend as the mark for a movie’s success, the outlook must shift in the pandemic era.  

“We’re accustomed to looking at opening weekend,” Robbins said. “We have to look at box office differently [now]. After a few weeks, we might get a better idea about the long term.

Movieguide® previously reported on the rising success of international box offices and the critical role the U.S. marketplace plays overseas. Although successful, the substantial global markets, like China, on average only give a quarter of ticket sales to studios.  In contrast, studios receive approximately fifty percent more from ticket sales stateside. 

“U.S. and Canada have always been the No. 1 marketplace for a reason,” Bock said. 

Bock added that streaming services must work in tandem with the theater releases.  

“I think studios can get away with it for awhile, but ultimately they’ll have to find a way to create revenue through multiple streams,” Bock said. 

Patrick Corcoran, vice president and chief communications officer of the National Association of Theater Owners, said that as more theaters open, TENET has a chance to have a longer tenure in theaters and do well in the box office.

“The major markets that haven’t opened yet are all areas where a Christopher Nolan film would do well,” Corcoran noted. “As more open, there’s a real runway for TENET to continue doing well.”

Independent movie theaters see TENET as a bright spot for their business. Brock Bagby, executive vice president of the family-owned theater chain B&B Theatres, reopened locations in July and said he sees a “drastic increase” in attendance each week.

“We were very pleased with results,” Bagby said regarding turnout for TENET at his theaters. “It was really strong for us, so we’ve been encouraged. Customers were really excited to be back to see a new movie.”

Exhibitors for the larger movie theater chains are now challenged with the task of ensuring audiences’ safety in their theaters. Several movies are set to come out in the upcoming months, including the newest James Bond installment, NO TIME TO DIE; Disney Marvel’s BLACK WIDOW; and director Denis Villeneuve’s DUNE adaptation. 

“Studios are looking very carefully at how theaters are performing in particular markets,” Corcoran said. “TENET can play by itself for a while. But at a certain point, there has got to be movies for audiences to go see.”