For most of the pandemic, Hollywood’s collective attention depends on one movie: “Tenet.”
The time-bending thriller from director Christopher Nolan is expected to answer specifically whether audiences will return to the movies once the coronavirus cases are under control. Theaters have been closed for several months starting in March to help stop the spread of the virus. That, in turn, left studios regularly delivering movie theaters in an expanded state of limbo.
After a surprisingly strong $ 53 million started overseas, “Tenet” landed in the US last weekend and generated a more muted $ 20 million in its debut. That was the biggest domestic haul yet for a new outbreak during the pandemic, but the results in the middle did not signal that the box office would soon return to normal.
Today, the film business remains divided on the question of whether “Tenet”; ticket sales justify releasing more budget-intensive budgets before the coronavirus passes or become widely accessible vaccine.
And in a vague picture of the commercial prospects of a movie, Warner Bros., the studio behind “Tenet,” and its rivals are faced with what could be a million-dollar decision: Stick to it there are release dates for upcoming blockbusters scheduled for 2020, or continue the delay of buzzy titles until major cities reopen theaters.
Part of the uncertainty that no one really knows how to evaluate the results for “Tenet.” Sure, in ordinary times, $ 20 million would be a disastrous result for a Nolan film. But these are not ordinary times.
Major markets like New York and Los Angeles still do not open cinemas. That probably reduced ticket sales by the millions. And parts of the country where cinemas have been reopened are required to limit the capacity to comply with physical distance measures. Add to that caution the part of customers who are more likely to be wary of returning to public spaces, and it’s hard to understand whether $ 20 million is a strong result or a sign that “Tenet” is more capable to wait longer to open inland.
“We’re used to looking at the opening weekend,” said Shawn Robbins, chief analyst at Boxoffice Pro. “We need to look at the box office differently [now]. After a few weeks, we can get a better idea about the length of the length. “
Without much competition on the horizon, Warner Bros. expects “Tenet” to enjoy a longer than usual run on the big screen to help bring back this massive $ 200 million budget. Ticket sales for the film have cleared $ 150 million worldwide to date. It will have to earn approximately $ 400 million on box office receipts worldwide to break even and closer to $ 450 million to maximize revenue.
The issue is that Hollywood may not have the time to see the length of the “Tenet” fate to play before deciding on other upcoming titles.
Right now, “Wonder Woman 1984” is the next big movie that is expected to hit US theaters. The comic book adventure, also from Warner Bros., is scheduled to launch on the big screen on October 2, but there is a dubious lack of promotion for the film. That is a sign, perhaps, that “Wonder Woman 1984” may be delayed again.
“Wonder Woman” is a very important franchise for Warner Bros., meaning the decision about its release date will not make much of a difference. Studios have been releasing campaigns for major films about six weeks in advance – so the clock is catching on with the sequel starring Gal Gadot. Once the Burbank lot executives have a better understanding of the box office performance of “Tenet,” they will need to make a decision about tracking “Wonder Woman.”
Some analysts believe it makes no sense to hire tentpoles until the two largest film markets return to business.
“As we saw in the infamous debut‘ Tenet ’- New York and LA are the sun and moon of the box office solar system,” said Jeff Bock, a box office analyst with Exhibitor Relations. “If the market is not expanded significantly, they will be foolish to release ‘Wonder Woman 1984’ in the same way as ‘Tenet.'”
Other studios also have plans to show high-profile films in theaters this year. James Bond episodes “No Time to Die,” Disney’s “Black Widow” and “Soul” and Denis Villeneuve’s star-studded “Dune” adaptation are among the films scheduled to be released in the next months.
A sign of optimism: Many countries are ahead of the US in their plans to reopen, and some – like China – have already seen a big box office return. If “Wonder Woman 1984” keeps its release date, box office analysts suggest that foreign markets could help save ticket sales.
But there is a reason that North America is a major market for most films. Studios receive more revenue from exhibitors in the US than they do internationally. For example, China provides only a quarter of ticket sales to studios, which is less than half what Hollywood companies on the Stateside usually do. In particular “Tenet”, Warner Bros. earns more than 60% of domestic ticket sales, which is higher than its average payday. However, it is not clear how the splits will work for future releases.
“The US and Canada have always been the No. 1 marketplace for a reason. I think studios may get away with this in a while, but eventually they will have to find a way to generate revenue through multiple stream, “said Bock, referring to premium video-on-demand platforms.
Cinema owners will remain optimistic that additional cities will soon get permission to reopen, which also helps justify blockbuster-dependent unspooling plans. Already, some parts of California have been given greenlight. When cinemas in New York can continue to do business, it will be “a big sign,” said Patrick Corcoran, vice president and chief communications officer of the National Theater Owners Association, the main weapon of lobbying. exhibition industry.
“The major markets that have not yet opened are all the places where a Christopher Nolan film would do well,” Corcoran said. “As more open, there is a real path for ‘Tenet’ to continue that well.”
Cinemark CEO Mark Zoradi said 70% of the cinema chain’s 525 US locations were reopened in time for “Tenet.” He estimates that opening receipts over the weekend will be close to $ 30 million if areas across California and New York are welcomed by customers.
“Clearly progress is being made,” Zoradi said. “We expect ‘Tenet’ to have an unusual pattern of play compared to your standard film as new theaters open every week.”
Since Brock Bagby, executive VP of family-owned theater chain B&B Theaters, was able to reopen locations in July, he saw a “drastic increase” in attendance each week.
“We are satisfied with the results,” Bagby said of the turnout for “Tenet” in his theaters. “It was really strong for us, so we were encouraged. Customers are really excited to come back to watch a new movie. ”
In the meantime, the challenge facing other exhibitors is to remind the public that not only are cinemas open, but they are safe to revisit during the global health crisis. That may help studios measure the popularity of film releases.
“Studios are looking closely at how theaters perform in specific markets,” Corcoran said. “‘Tenet’ can play alone for a while. But at a certain point, there has to be movies for audiences to watch.”