The Robert De Niro comedy The War With Grandpa from 201 Studios wrested the top spot from Warner Bros.’ Tenet at the domestic weekend box office with a projected $3.6 million in ticket sales in its theatrical debut, according to industry reports. Tenet generated $2.1 million in its seventh week of release. The Christopher Nolan espionage thriller has generated $48.3 million in the United States and $323.3 million globally.
Despite 86% of U.S. screens operating, albeit under strict social distancing and public health safeguards, the exhibition business continues to be devastated by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, wary consumers and theaters closures in major markets such as New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco. Just seven Regal Cinemas locations remained open after the No. 2 exhibitor re-shuttered all North American operations indefinitely Oct. 8, citing a lack of major studio new releases.
The U.S. box office continues to suffer under constrained openings due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Despite the release of three significant studio titles, exhibitor revenue remains down 75% from the previous-year period.
Warner Bros.’ Tenet, the international espionage thriller from Christopher Nolan, remained the top draw, generating $3.4 million in revenue from 2,800 screens through Sept. 26, or $41.2 million since it debuted in the U.S. four weeks ago. That was down 26% from $4.59 million generated during the previous-weekend three-day period, according to industry numbers.
The movie has generated $283.2 million worldwide — leading some observers to wonder when Warner would release the movie on HBO Max or a third-party platform via PVOD or transactional VOD. The movie has generated 85% of its box office abroad.
Notably, the top domestic screens for Tenet included largely drive-ins and Imax theaters such as Paramount Drive-In in Los Angeles; Capitol 6 Drive-In and Solano Twin Drive-In in San Francisco; Regal Irvine Spectrum Imax and AMC Block Orange with Imax (Orange County, Calif.); Cinemark Redwood 20 in San Francisco; Alamo Drafthouse in Ashburn, Va.; Cinemark Huntington Beach (Calif.) Bella Terra; and Sacramento (Calif.) Drive-In.
Meanwhile, Disney/20th Century’s The New Mutants finished second with exhibitors, generating $1.1 million in ticket sales, which was down 31% from $1.59 million during the previous weekend period. The movie has tallied $19.4 million over the the past five weeks.
Disney’s live-action Mulan, which has only been released in theaters outside the U.S., and on Premier Access via Disney+ domestically, generated $3.4 million, or $64 million globally since its Sept. 4 debut. Disney has not disclosed the movie’s PVOD revenue numbers.
The Walt Disney Co.’s live-action Mulan remake opened at No. 1 in China this weekend with an estimated box office gross of $23.2 million, Disney announced Sept. 13 — bringing its total theatrical earnings to $37.6 million.
Domestically, the film bypassed theaters and instead premiered on streaming service Disney+ Sept. 4, at a premium access price.
Also this weekend, Warner Bros.’ Tenet crossed the $200 mark globally, but in the North American market — the United States and Canada — the film earned $6.7 million in its second week of release, a 29% drop from week one. While more than 70% of all U.S. theaters are now open, capacities are limited due to COVID-19 restrictions and in certain key markets, including Los Angeles and New York, theaters remain dark.
In its third weekend, Disney’owned 20th Century’s The New Mutants earned an estimated $2.1 million domestically, bringing its domestic cume to $15.3 million, Disney reported.
Internationally, the thirteenth and final installment in the “X-Men” franchise expanded to 36 “material” markets, Disney said, including opening in Germany and Korea, earning an estimated $3.8 million over the weekend.
AT&T CFO John Stephens was one of many U.S. moviegoers who donned a mask and watched Christopher Nolan’s Tenet at the movie theater over the Labor Day weekend. The movie has generated about $150 million at the global box office despite continued theater shutdowns in key markets such as California and New York.
Speaking Sept. 9 on the virtual Bank of America Media, Communications and Entertainment confab, Stephens reiterated WarnerMedia’s ongoing support for the theatrical window — a stance undermined in recent months by the Walt Disney Co.’s decision to embrace premium video-on-demand for the live-action Mulan remake and Universal Pictures’ decision to entertain PVOD and theatrical releases for all new major studio films.
Stephens said a movie on the scale of Tenet plays best on a large screen rather than in a consumer home. Indeed, more than 50% of the movie’s $20.1 million Labor Day weekend domestic box office occurred at Imax screens, the biggest of the big screens.
“I couldn’t have imagined being able to see [Tenet] and enjoy it in the same way here in my home,” Stephens said. “We understand the distribution model is going to evolve … so we’re going to continue to look at [PVOD], but in no way do I want to imply that we’re not going to continue to work with those theater owners.”
Tenet is on track to equal last year’s It: Chapter Two, which generated $211.5 million at the domestic box office for Warner to finish 2019 in the No. 10 spot, just behind the studio’s Oscar-winning Joker with $333.7 million.
Warner Bros.’ major box office release Tenet generated $20.2 million at the weekend U.S. box office through Sept. 5 — the majority ($11.1 million) on high-definition Imax screens, according to industry data. The Christopher Nolan espionage thriller, which is seen by many as a harbinger to theatrical normalcy, has tracked almost $150 million worldwide.
“There is literally no context in which to compare the results of a film opening during a pandemic with any other circumstance,” Warner said in a Sept. 6 statement. “We are in unprecedented territory, so any comparisons to the pre-COVID world would be inequitable and baseless.”
With many theatrical chains operating for the first time following months of closure due to the coronavirus pandemic, key regions such as California and New York still have many screens shuttered, which led observers to project a $20 million opening box office — one of the worst for a Nolan movie.
Michael Pachter with Wedbush Securities in Los Angeles, said that despite AMC Theatres re-opening 70% of its domestic screens, COVID-19 worries among exhibitors would limit seating capacity, undermining the fiscal impact of Tenet.
“Pent up consumer demand with 50% [social distancing seating] capacity and 60% of moviegoers afraid of dying [of COVID-19]. I think [Tenet] will be a [U.S. box office] embarrassment,” Pachter said ahead of the weekend box office.
No numbers are in for Mulan’s U.S. premium video-on-demand (PVOD) debut on Disney+, but Walt Disney Studios did release box office figures it says show “a strong opening … in just a handful of smaller international markets, representing only around 6% of normal international footprint.”
In those nine new markets — Croatia, Czech Rep, the Middle East, Slovakia, Turkey, Malaysia, Singapore, Taiwan and Thailand — the live-action remake of the popular animated film earned a total of $5.9 million.
In the Middle East, Mulan opened at No. 1 in the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia (with an estimated $800,000 in each market). In Asia, Mulan opened at No.1 in Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand — markets where Disney estimates 90% of movie theaters are open, albeit at reduced capacities ranging from 30% to 50% of normal.
Meanwhile, Fox’s The New Mutants in its second weekend earned an estimated $3.5 million in North American theaters, bringing its total take to an estimated $12.3 million. Disney estimates 68% of domestic screens are open, although major markets including Los Angeles and New York are still closed.
Internationally, The New Mutants expanded into 30 markets, including the U.K., Mexico, Australia, Russia and Italy, where it earned an estimated $4.2 million for the weekend.
Hollywood may be slowly going back to work as the coronavirus pandemic ebbs and flows across the country, but don’t expect a groundswell of content to be flooding distribution channels, including movie theaters and digital in the short term, according to Wedbush Securities analyst Michael Pachter.
Speaking Sept. 2 on the virtual OTT.X 2020 Summit, Pachter said studio and TV production across Hollywood has been at a standstill since mid-March due to the pandemic, which he said translates into exhibitors, pay-TV and over-the-top video distribution struggling to fill the void with fresh content.
At the same time, the analyst does not have high hopes for this weekend’s major new releases: Warner Bros.’ Tenet and Disney’s Mulan — the latter debuting Sept. 4 exclusively for $29.99 on “Premier Access” behind the Disney+ paywall.
Pachter said that despite AMC Theatres re-opening 70% of its domestic screens, COVID-19 worries among exhibitors will limit seating capacity, undermining the fiscal impact of Tenet from The Dark Knight director Christopher Nolan.
Pachter doubts the movie will generate more than $50 million at the weekend domestic box office, which begins Sept. 3. The film generated $53 million over a five-day (Aug. 26-30) period across 41 countries outside the U.S. and China.
The movie is projected to match last weekend’s international box office take with the movie opening in China, Russia, Serbia, Slovenia, Nigeria and Ghana. Domestic projections hover around $20 million.
The analyst said Tenet is getting distribution via 2,000 screens in the U.S., compared with 3,700 screens for Nolan’s most-recent major release, Dunkirk. Pachter said Tenet performed comparably to Dunkirk internationally, with the 2017 film generating $50 million its opening weekend in the U.S.
“Pent up consumer demand with 50% [social distancing seating] capacity and 60% of moviegoers afraid of dying [of COVID-19]. Yes, I think [Tenet] will be a [U.S. box office] embarrassment,” Pachter said.
Meanwhile, premium VOD, which has seen some studios (notably Universal Pictures) bypass theatrical distribution, delivering direct-to-consumer access to movies, generated a lot of attention after Universal’s Trolls World Tour sold more than $100 million digital transactions during the early days of the pandemic.
Disney, which has for years eschewed PVOD for the traditional theatrical window, surprisingly opted to distribute Mulan direct-to-consumer after the film’s repeated theatrical debut delays. Pachter questions how many consumers will opt to pay $30 for a movie they could arguably rent two months later for $5.99.
“Studios that are trying [PVOD] are just starting to figure out how a [direct-to-consumer] release impacts downstream revenue, and whether or not this will be worthwhile to use as a distribution method in the future,” the analyst said. “What may work well in the current [COVID-19] environment may not meet the same high-water marks in a normal environment. I think, generally speaking, most Disney films need the theatrical release to maximize profits, and I don’t see this changing.”
At the same time, the analyst remembered asking former Universal Pictures Home Entertainment boss Craig Kornblau why the studio didn’t offer a $30 monthly all-you-can-stream subscription plan similar to HBO.
“Why would we do that?,” Kornblau responded. “There aren’t that many movies.”
Pachter believes people would pay out of laziness, maybe watching 10 movies a month. But the analyst says studios are run by executives afraid of change and losing their jobs — not forward thinkers.
“That’s why guys like [new WarnerMedia CEO] Jason Kilar and [ex-TikTok boss] Kevin Mayer depart,” he said. “Maybe [Kilar will] convince AT&T CEO John Stankey to change.”
That said, Pachter has praise for upstart SVOD platform Disney+, saying the platform is inexpensive compared with Netflix and Amazon Prime Video, and filled with content suitable for the entire family. He projects Disney+ will reach 150 million subscribers, attracting lower-income households — driven in large part by the service’s catalog of more than 600 programs.
“Bundled together with ESPN+ and Hulu makes Disney+ a no brainer,” he said. “It’s wholesome content, Marvel stuff aside.”
As expected, Pachter has the most concern for Netflix in the COVID-19 era. A longtime bear on the SVOD pioneer, Pachter said Netflix is running out of original content.
“Netflix cannot stay on this hamster wheel without as much content as it had in the past,” he said. “Everybody that has content locked up will get [consumer] eyeballs. Netflix will lose eyeballs.”
Following a surprise opening box office weekend (Aug. 26-30) of $53 million outside the United States and China, Warner Bros.’ Tenet got a boost Sept. 1 when AMC Theatres announced that 70% of domestic screens would be open for business this weekend — including screens in California. Regal Cinemas and Cinemark are re-opening screens as well in key markets.
The return of the domestic and global box office is key to Hollywood returning to movie production and titles being released into retail channels, including transactional VOD and packaged media.
By this weekend AMC will have resumed operations at approximately 420 theatres nationwide. AMC will open more than 140 theaters this week, with the vast majority of re-openings taking place on Thursday, Sept. 3, the same day director Christopher Nolan’s Tenet opens in the United States.
The next day, Friday, Sept. 4, AMC expects its first California theaters to reopen, when it resumes operations at seven theaters in and around San Diego. AMC is closely monitoring all local directives and will follow all guidelines on auditorium capacity.
AMC expects to make announcements about additional markets in California, New Jersey and other areas of the country in the coming weeks, once theatres are authorized to open by state and local officials.
“The first two weekends of operations have exceeded our expectations in terms of guests returning to the movies and in terms of their feedback about our extensive ‘AMC Safe & Clean’ policies and procedures,” CEO Adam Aron said in a statement.
Hollywood got its first sense of normalcy at the box office after Warner Bros.’ espionage thriller Tenet, from director Christopher Nolan, generated more than $53 million Aug. 26 to 30 at the international box office. The film opens in the U.S. and China next weekend.
The much-hyped (and delayed) movie has been pegged by exhibitors and studios as a key barometer whether consumers return to the movies in the COVID-19 era. Tenet is the strongest international opening weekend (in 41 markets, including Canada) for a Nolan movie, which includes The Dark Knight.
Tenet, which stars John David Washington and Robert Pattinson, among others, opened biggest in the United Kingdom with $7.1 million in ticket sales, followed by France ($6.7 million), Korea ($5.1 million) and Germany ($4.2 million).
With Nolan a fan of 70mm films (and 4K UHD Blu-ray), Tenet performed well at Imax screens, generating more than $5 million in revenue.
“People have been very anxious to get back to the movies,” Megan Colligan, president of Imax Entertainment, told Variety. “These results speak to that.”
Toby Emmerich, chairman of Warner Bros. Pictures Group, said the return to box office normalcy is a marathon, not a sprint. Some Wall Street analysts contend consumers won’t feel comfortable returning to the box office without a COVID-19 vaccine is available.
Regardless, Emmerich believes Tenet has a long theatrical run ahead.
“We are off to a fantastic start internationally and couldn’t be more pleased,” he said in a statement. “Christopher Nolan has once again delivered an event-worthy motion picture that demands to be seen on the big screen.”
Warner Bros. Aug. 18 announced it would release Christopher Nolan’s espionage thriller Tenet on Aug. 31 in select cities with re-opened theaters. The much-anticipated movie, along with Disney’s Mulan, is seen as a catalyst to jumpstart the exhibition business following months of closure due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“Warner Bros. is proud to support our partners in exhibition as they reopen their doors. And there could be no better film to welcome audiences back to a true big-screen experience than Tenet,” Jeff Goldstein, president of Warner Bros. Pictures Domestic Distribution, said in a statement.
With Disney moving Mulan to premium VOD in September, Tenet is now the go-to theatrical release for exhibitors hoping to instill a sense of normalcy to the the cineplex. Warner is launching the movie in Canada on Aug. 27.
But early screenings of Tenet will have little impact on the film’s box office without the contribution of California, New York and New Jersey markets. All three states remain up in the air regarding theatrical re-openings. And a New Jersey judge just ruled against major chains AMC Theatres and others re-opening screens in the Garden State.
“It’s the level of risk,” New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said in an Aug. 17 media conference. “If you look at our metrics, we started with the most essential business that posed the least risk. And then it was the gradation to the least essential businesses that posed the most risk. I am sure there is a whole group of people who say, ‘I cannot live without going to the movies.’
“But on a relative risk scale,” Cuomo continued, “a movie theater is less essential and poses a high risk. It is congregant. It is one ventilation system. You are seated there for a long period of time. Even if you are at 50% capacity with one or two seats between the two of you, this is a risk situation and movie theaters are not that high on the list of essentials.”