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Despite hitting an incredible milestone at the global box office this weekend, we’re stunned to learn the domestic box office performance of Christopher Nolan‘s Tenet is not exactly what we reported just one week ago. A report from Variety earlier in the weekend indicated Warner Bros. had suddenly begun deliberately holding back reports on daily domestic box office performance via Comscore — much to the consternation of fellow studios. The practice is common, so Warner Bros. suddenly going dark led to a lot of raised eyebrows across the industry. Now, the other shoe has dropped and we’re getting an even clearer picture of Tenet‘s box office performance from Warner Bros. than we did last weekend.
Good news first: Tenet‘s global box office total crossed the $200 million mark this weekend. The movie added $37.3 million (taken from 50 international markets including the U.S. and Canada) to its ever-growing global total and helping to propel it over the $200 million line. Tenet‘s international total through Sunday is $177.5 million. However — and here’s the important part — Tenet only earned $6.7 million domestically (again, that’s the U.S. and Canada) through Sunday, its second weekend in theaters, from 2,910 locations. To date, Tenet‘s domestic total is $29.5 million. According to Warner Bros., this weekend’s total represents a 29% drop in earnings. Now, I’m no math whiz, but I sure as heck know a 29% drop from Tenet‘s $20.2 million opening weekend doesn’t equal $6.7 million.
Instead, some reverse-engineering leads to the conclusion that Warner Bros. leaned heavily on preview earnings and the benefits of the extended Labor Day weekend window to inflate its $20.2 million selling point in last weekend’s box office report. In reality, Tenet only made approximately $9.5 million domestic from Friday to Sunday in its opening weekend. These figures gel much better with the grim reality that key domestic markets, including Los Angeles and New York, are still shuttered amidst the COVID-19 pandemic; those essential revenue streams are also cut off. Even with around 65-75% of theaters open here in the U.S., there’s no realistic way Tenet could have hit those publicity-friendly numbers over the course of three days in September 2020. Under $10 million in a domestic opening weekend makes a lot more sense (even if Warner Bros. doesn’t want to recognize it) much in the same way Tenet‘s international box office success makes sense because other countries have had a comparatively better and more effective plan of attack against the pandemic (which means folks can go to the movies sooner and in larger quantities).
And as we try to figure out what’s real and what’s not with Tenet, there are other movies in theaters continuing to make money or in their first weekend of getting a slice of this meager box office pie. The New Mutants hangs on with $2.1 million domestic (from 2,704 locations) this weekend bringing its at-home total to $15.3 million. Meanwhile, the 20th Century Studios released added $3.8 million to its international gross, bringing it up to $14 million in Week 3. Unhinged added $1.5 million domestic from 2,365 locations, bringing its domestic gross to $13.8 million. Overseas, Disney’s live-action Mulan grossed $29.1 million from 17 international markets in Weekend 2, with a majority of the earnings coming from China ($23M). Finally, The Broken Hearts Gallery, starring Dacre Montgomery and Geraldine Viswanathan, opened in 2,204 locations and brought in just $1.13 million domestic.
Please read Collider’s official statement on covering theatrically-released movies during the global COVID-19 pandemic.
Allie Gemmill is the Weekend Contributing Editor for Collider. You can follow them on Twitter @_matineeidle.