By R.T. Watson
As theaters in the U.S. groan back to life after being shut for
more than five months, Warner Bros.' "Tenet" is giving Hollywood
something to cheer about after a promising international debut.
Director Christopher Nolan's time-bending spy flick won't open
in the U.S. until Labor Day weekend, but it grossed $53 million
from 41 international markets, according to preliminary estimates
from Warner Bros. That total includes Canada, which normally is
counted with U.S. theater grosses as part of a single North
The studio, owned by AT&T Inc., expressed satisfaction with
the opening. "We are off to a fantastic start internationally,"
said Toby Emmerich, who heads Warner Bros.' movie operation. "Given
the unprecedented circumstances of this global release we know
we're running a marathon, not a sprint."
As many nations fared better than the U.S. containing the
coronavirus, they began reopening their economies sooner, including
movie theaters. Taking that into account, and after having to alter
its release plans four times, Warner Bros. said it decided to
release "Tenet" outside the U.S. this weekend.
While major theater chains such as AMC Entertainment Holdings
Inc., Cineworld Group PLC's Regal Entertainment Group and Cinemark
Holdings Inc. began gradually reopening in recent weeks, many
cinemas in major domestic markets, including Los Angeles and New
York City, are still closed amid government efforts to curb the
spread of the coronavirus.
Business has been slow to rev up at U.S. theaters that have
Walt Disney Co.'s long-delayed X-Men spinoff "The New Mutants,"
grossed a paltry $7 million from about 2,400 theaters in the U.S.
and Canada, according to preliminary studio estimates. Disney
estimated about 62% of the theatrical market in the U.S. and Canada
Expectations were low for "The New Mutants," which was
originally supposed to arrive in theaters in 2018. But the movie's
opening weekend tally was notably weak, even by the standards of
box-office duds released under more normal circumstances. Last
year, even after being widely panned by critics, Disney's "X-Men:
Dark Phoenix" earned $32.8 million its first weekend in about 3,700
Nonetheless the domestic market has shown growth for two
consecutive weekends, according to how much the top film in the
U.S. and Canada earned at the box office.
Last weekend, independent Solstice Studios' "Unhinged," one of
the only new films in theaters, nabbed the top spot at the box
office, with $4.2 million in the U.S. and Canada. "Unhinged" ranks
as Hollywood's first true test case of a wide release since the
pandemic shut theaters in the U.S. in March. So far the action
movie, which stars Russell Crowe, has grossed $8.8 million
Hoping to entice the public back to theaters, major cinema
chains in the U.S. recently adopted industrywide safety protocols
such as enhanced sanitation and encouraging contactless sales of
tickets and refreshments. By government mandate, theaters also are
operating under strict capacity restrictions that limit the number
of people that are allowed in each auditorium.
The U.S. debut of "Tenet," which stars John David Washington and
Robert Pattinson, could represent a lifeline for theaters, which
for months have been unable to offer high-profile films. Most
theaters plan on showing the film on as many screens as possible to
compensate for reduced capacity. But it remains to be seen how far
behind the U.S. market is compared with the rest of the world.
China, where the Covid-19 pandemic first broke out, appears to
be leagues ahead of the U.S. in terms of moviegoing. Powered by
Chinese moviegoers, the local war epic "The Eight Hundred" grossed
about $70 million this weekend, according to media-measurement
company Comscore Inc. The Chinese blockbuster has made more than
$270 million since premiering Aug. 17.
IMAX Chief Executive Richard Gelfond said the performance of
"Tenet" in Canada -- a market he says is a good predictor of
consumer behavior in the U.S. -- suggests the movie will do well in
America. With most showings limited to 50 seats, Mr. Gelfond said
many showings in Canada sold out, generating what he described as
Executives at rival studios are keeping a close eye on "Tenet,"
which will be showing for up to 12 weeks in some U.S. multiplexes,
hoping a strong performance will signal the beginning of a new
phase for their business -- one that could sustain them past the
end of the pandemic.
Studios have moved many big-budget films from this year to 2021,
but plenty of potential blockbusters remain on the calendar for the
rest of the year. Warner Bros. plans to roll out DC Comics sequel
"Wonder Woman 1984" in October, followed the next month by the
Marvel spinoff "Black Widow," from Disney, and the latest James
Bond film, "No Time to Die," from MGM Holdings Inc.
--Yin Yijun contributed to this article.
(END) Dow Jones Newswires
August 30, 2020 15:35 ET (19:35 GMT)
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