What was meant to be the great saviour of cinemas and bring audiences back in their droves may have actually done more harm than good to the Western cinema market as Tenet – by esteemed writer-director Christopher Nolan – is reported to be struggling for numbers.
The latest news surrounding Tenet has promptly sounded off a warning signal to other major studios who have now pulled their films out of the 2020 release schedule entirely meaning theatres are potentially left at a dire circumstance.
The world has been watching Tenet’s progress closely to see how major releases could fair in a pandemic stricken market, and, so, as Variety reported this last weekend that Warner Bros were keeping tight-lipped over the official daily box office numbers for Tenet’s domestic release, speculation began to run wild over just how poor Tenet was potentially doing.
First of all restricting daily box office information is not normal practice and often times other studio execs might be expecting hourly updates on a rival’s box office returns.
So to have these numbers put under a cloud suggested that the worst concerns of a first major film to release in theatres during the pandemic may have come to fruition.
And sure enough as those total box-office numbers finally did come in after Tenet’s second domestic weekend those negative presumptions were laid bare for all to see.
HOW HAS TENET PERFORMED THEN?
Read more: Tenet IMAX Review
As of this last weekend – Tenet’s second as a domestic release – the film has grossed about $207 million worldwide which isn’t necessarily terrible given the giant caveat that any numbers are of course expected to be smaller in the current global situation.
However, perhaps more worryingly for Warner and Hollywood as a whole is that less than $30 million of that is from the domestic market.
And unfortunately for most films as we understand them – i.e. the Western/American market – the domestic market takes precedence, generally, especially when that number is now meant to provide the answer to Hollywood’s questions for how best to proceed with its releases.
To break that number down further it is reported that Tenet’s second-weekend numbers constitute for only $6.7 million of that thirty which given there is very little in theatres at the moment, and given the panned New Mutants took in $2 million in its third weekend means that the great Tenet experiment is perhaps looking like a middling failure.
With such a low end of weekend count, it is perhaps no wonder that Warner Bros are keeping quiet about the further daily breakdowns.
At $207 million currently Tenet is likely on track for around $300 million total which against its reported $200-$225 million production budget and a huge marketing campaign which included the likes of Fortnite means that Tenet may be Christopher Nolan’s lowest blockbuster release and an unfortunate failure for Warner Bros all told.
Unfortunately, since so much pressure was put on Tenet to reinvigorate the market, it means its downfall becomes all the more colossal for everyone else.
Other major studios have already voiced frustration at Warner’s restriction of the daily numbers since they too have a vested interest in its performance and, for all intents and purposes, were urging on its success too.
Since, quite simply, Tenet’s success would have meant that cinemas and audiences are ready once again for major releases.
However, with the news of Tenet’s demise, the knock-on effect has already begun as Warner’s competitors have started pulling out of the 2020 docket again already.
Universal has pulled their Halloween release of the much anticipated Candyman to some time in 2021 now; Sony has doubled down on their earlier resolve to hold off big releases, stating that they “won’t make the mistake of putting a very, very expensive $200 million movie out in the market unless we’re sure that theatres are open and operating at significant capacity”.
Disney too are strongly rumoured to be pulling Black Widow from its November release – potentially even taking it to Disney+ altogether – as Warner themselves, clearly shaken by Tenet’s release, are pushing Wonder Woman 1984 back to December now too, leaving October entirely empty of major cinema releases.
Now the last hold out for upcoming major releases is MGM’s No Time To Die although I’ll bet Bond is feeling the shaky ground underneath his November release now too.
Were Bond to move then the 2020 film season is essentially over.
DIRE STRAITS FOR THEATRES
Having been forced into closures, cinema chains like everyone else were already feeling disadvantaged by the impact of coronavirus and will now be looking at the waning 2020 film slate with despair.
IndieWire reported this last weekend that the total domestic gross across all US theatres was about $15 million – only $5,000 across each open theatre – and that is WITH a new major release in its second weekend.
With no other big films set to release the future looks bleak.
And though this is a report for specifically the US which is at the very worst of the pandemic compared to most of the rest of the world, the general rule still likely holds for many other markets.
Cinemas are going to struggle for now.
Efforts have been made to entice cinemagoers back in with the likes of The Empire Strikes Back and the Harry Potter series being rerun at UK theatres however these will not nearly make up the deficit of no new releases.
Additionally, this last summer has seen a growth in the possibilities for major films to release on VOD on any number of streaming platforms available, rather than a traditional theatre release.
For example, Universal’s Trolls: World Tour came out digitally to relatively impressive numbers signalling that VOD releases may be a more lucrative opportunity than studios were first willing to concede.
And that news has already caused a schism between studios and cinemas as US chain AMC, clearly feeling the pressure of VOD, announced that they would not release any Universal films in future if the studio continued to pursue digital releases.
It was clearly an attempt to reclaim some semblance of a strong position against studios which ultimately failed as they later backed down.
Disney too is evidently seeing the growing possibility of using Disney+ to control their own releases with Mulan already being released on the streaming platform and Black Widow potentially being not too far behind.
Mulan, however, is not expected to have performed digitally nearly as well as it needed to for a $200 million film so the argument between digital and theatre is clearly still incomplete.
WHAT’S NEXT AFTER TENET?
Personally I think Tenet should have been delayed further; there was absolutely no reason to force through its release other than to potentially lay claim to being the first back and the great heralder that all is well at the cinema again.
But ultimately that has not been the case, and so the great Tenet experiment appears to have failed meaning cinemas are once again pegged back and left with few options against a growing rise in the popularity of VOD.
Hollywood too has a few questions to answer again since its hopes for Tenet have not lasted; how should films be released in future? Does everyone just wait until a vaccine allows cinemas to operate at regular capacity or are we going to be stuck between a middle-ground of streaming and small theatre releases? When is Fast 9 coming? – my friend Vin needs to know.
Of course, COVID also calls to question how films themselves can even be produced currently since we’ve already seen the likes of The Batman shutting down again just days after restarting production.
So though 2021 could have a huge cram of delayed films to release, what comes after that?
The doomsday clock might not quite be striking yet for all but it is clear that the film industry is at a crossroads right now, and however, it chooses to proceed may prove catastrophic for some left behind.
What do you make of this feature?
Did you see Tenet at the cinema? If so, what did you make of it?
Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.