Box Office: ‘Tenet’ Crosses $250 Million Globally, But Continues to Stall in the U.S.

Christopher Nolan’s “Tenet” hit an important milestone, crossing the $250 million mark at the global box office.

That benchmark is bolstered by international revenues, where the sci-fi thriller has surpassed $200 million in ticket sales. But in the U.S., “Tenet” is still struggling to attract audiences. The movie earned $4.7 million in its third weekend, bringing North American grosses to an underwhelming $36.1 million.

As the first major film to release in theaters since the pandemic, “Tenet” has boldly tested the waters to see how willing people would be to return to the movies during a global heath crisis. Warner Bros., the studio behind the $200 million-budgeted film, again stressed that “Tenet’s” theatrical run will be “a marathon, not a sprint.” The hope is that without much competition in terms of new Hollywood tentpoles, “Tenet” will steadily draw crowds for weeks to come.

It’s not just “Tenet” having trouble generating traction among ticket buyers. Given the challenging marketplace, every movie is facing headwinds at the box office. Though 70% of cinemas in the U.S. have reopened, venues in New York and Los Angeles — two areas that account for a bulk of the country’s ticket sales — are still closed. Multiplexes that have reopened are operating at reduced capacity due to the pandemic. However, executives are optimistic that movies will continue to see an increase in sales as additional markets are given permission to turn marquee lights back on.

A glint of optimism: Theaters in the greater Los Angeles area, including Orange County, that reopened have accounted for a bulk of this weekend’s ticket sales. Among the highest-grossing venues, three of the top five — and five out of the top 10 — were in California, despite 80% of theaters in the state being closed. Studio bosses are taking that as a sign that when Los Angeles and other popular moviegoing areas reopen, people will turn out to theaters in larger numbers.

Though movie theaters overseas have seen stronger attendance, Disney’s live-action “Mulan” has also continued to fall short of expectations. In China, box office receipts plummeted 72% in its second weekend, with $6.5 million in ticket sales. After a disappointing $23 million debut last weekend, the fantasy epic has made $36 million in China. “Mulan” has generated $57 million globally, a dismal result for a movie that cost $200 million to produce. The film isn’t opening in theaters in the U.S. and some European countries, where it’s instead launching directly on Disney Plus for a premium fee. Disney hasn’t reported how many subscribers shelled out the extra $30 to watch “Mulan” on Disney Plus, but that could help recoup its massive budget.

The only new wide release this weekend was “Infidel,” an espionage thriller that was executive produced by conservative political pundit Dinesh D’Souza. It made $1.5 million from 1,724 theaters.

Among holdovers at the domestic box office, Disney’s “The New Mutants” earned $1.6 million in its fourth weekend for a North American haul of $17.7 million. The “X-Men” sequel also brought in $2 million from 38 international markets, boosting its overseas grosses to $17.3 million. Globally, “The New Mutants” has made $35 million.

In its second weekend, Sony’s romantic comedy “The Broken Hearts Gallery” dipped 29%, with a meager $800,000 from 2,221 screens. The movie, starring Geraldine Viswanathan, has generated $2.4 million to date.

Russell Crowe’s thriller “Unhinged” added $1.3 million in its fifth weekend of release, most of which came from drive-in theaters. In total, the movie has collected $15.7 million.

A few movies opened at the indie box office, including Bleecker Street’s World War II drama “The Secrets We Keep” starring Joel Kinnaman and Noomi Rapace. The film, which elicited mixed reviews, amassed $89,955 from 471 theaters in the U.S., averaging $191 per location.

IFC Film’s “The Nest” starring Jude Law and Carrie Coon also premiered this weekend. The well-reviewed thriller, centering on a family that relocates from America to England, opened in 301 theaters across the U.S., bringing in $62,000 in total. The specialty studio plans to expand to more theaters in the coming weeks before “The Nest” debuts on demand on Nov. 17.

Elsewhere, “The Way I See It” — a timely documentary about former White House photographer Pete Souza — launched in 124 venues, bringing in $25,000. The non-fiction film, directed by Dawn Porter, is airing on MSNBC in October and will replay several times ahead of the presidential election.

“I hope this film serves as a reminder about importance of the presidency, but also how the power of the still image in behind-the-scenes moments can reveal the true character of the person holding that office,” Souza said.

“Tenet” and other movies playing on the big screen will likely be devoid of competition in the near future. Recently, Warner Bros. delayed “Wonder Woman 1984” to Christmas and Universal pushed “Candyman” until 2021. There’s also talk that Disney may move Marvel’s “Black Widow” and Pixar’s “Soul” off their respective November release dates. But those decisions could prove catastrophic for movie theater owners, who are facing the potential of months without a new movie to offer.

“While there are still many challenges and hurdles facing the industry — including a sparse slate of new high-profile films between now and the end of the year — [this] weekend should be seen as another positive step in [the] quest to get the movie theater experience back to its pre-pandemic glory,” said Paul Dergarabedian, a senior media analyst with Comscore.

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