Not Exactly the Weekend Wrap-Up
By Tim Briody
September 8, 2020
Hi. It's me again. We're back. For now. (Listen to Streaming into the Void! Sorry, I'm bad at promotion.) Much like last weekend, a high profile new release tries its luck among the theaters that have opened across the country, but this one has some much higher stakes.
By now you've probably seen some clickbait-y headline or tweet claiming that Tenet opened to $20.2 million, thus saving the box office recovery and it'll be smooth sailing from here on out or something like that. This is a bunch of hooey.
One of the things that makes movie box office tracking so fascinating is that we deal in exact dollars. We know that the all time box office leader, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, earned $936,662,225. And yes, I had to look that up. It's a rarity in the entertainment industry to find out anything that exact. Things get vague when it comes to home video release. TV ratings are an inexact science. Music sales (back when people bought music) are rounded off to the nearest thousand. And forget the streaming sites, they never tell us exactly how many people have watched something for some reason. But, with a few exceptions here and there (I'm looking at you, Rampage!), we know exactly how much movie ever released in theaters earned.
Warner Bros. has done us a big disservice in trying to save some face here for a decent headline. In and of itself, a Labor Day weekend total of $20 million for Tenet is a good figure for a movie that was supposed to be a summer tentpole, in a time when an estimated 65% of theaters nationwide are open, and those that are open are allowed to fill to 25-50% capacity.
The problem is Tenet didn't earn $20 million this weekend. That's its North American earnings over 11 days. Christopher Nolan is not going to be happy about this.
Tenet launched in Canada the previous weekend, and Warner Bros. decided to not release box office totals for any day this weekend or the previous weekdays. They're treating the $20.2 million earned as the opening weekend total, when that weekend was 11 days long. They're trying to spin this as a revitalization of the box office when it is in fact...not that.
I get wanting to say "yeah, come on in, the water's fine!" to salvage something for 2020, but this is just not good news and if I were in charge of a movie's release and it's on the schedule for the remainder of this year, I'd strongly consider PVOD options because people should not and/or will not be going to theaters for the immediate future.
To make matters worse, last weekend's "winner," The New Mutants, earned $3 million for the weekend, and it's got $12.4 million after 11 days in theaters. That's a 57% nosedive, and what likely awaits Tenet in the near future.
Unhinged earned $1.8 million for third place and has $11.4 million since opening four weeks ago, while the only other movie worth mentioning, Bill & Ted Face the Music (which is also available to rent or buy on streaming sites) earned just $773,000 and has $2.2 million in two weekends.
In future weekends, I'd like to say that this weekend wrap up will look a little more traditional, but given how much of a disaster this weekend was, I don't think that's going to be the case for some time.