If most of the country has operational movie theaters and audiences show up, Tenet’s U.S. debut could break the Labor Day weekend record.
Yesterday was supposed to be the opening day for Chris Nolan’s Tenet, well, the second opening day after Warner Bros. delayed the sci-fi actioner from its initial July 17 date. The John David Washington/Robert Pattinson thriller was then delayed to August 12 and will now open overseas in much of the world on August 26 before opening in “limited” American theatrical release over a long Thurs-Mon Labor Day weekend beginning September 3.
Just how limited is a key question, and Tom Brueggemann čez Indiewire has argued that the film could play in essentially 80% of the country. If the 45 U.S. states allegedly permitted to run indoor theaters are able to play the movie, then the anticipated (and allegedly good) time inversion thriller could set a new record for Labor Day weekends entirely by default.
There were 40 U.S. states operating indoor theaters in some capacity last weekend, and it’s presumed that the number will increase over the next month. No, that list doesn’t include California, New York, Arizona and New Jersey, key markets which may stay closed even as the rest of the country (for better or worse) reopens their theaters and theater chains. NYC, LA and San Francisco can sometimes represent 25% of the marketplace. Moreover, just because a state is allowed to operate theaters, that doesn’t mean that every potential movie theater in every permitted U.S., state will be running at maximum capacity.
But what if they do? Had America gotten a handle on the coronavirus over the summer and Paramount’s Mirni kraj, del II (which was tracking for a $60 million launch when its initial March 20 release was canceled) opened on September 4 as rescheduled, that record would have been demolished, with the Emily Blunt sequel likely becoming the first Labor Day blockbuster by default. Since Labor Day is a holiday that usually signifies the end of the summer and the start of the school year, studios have almost never placed “big” (or kid-friendly) releases over this comparatively un-festive Fri-Mon frame.
zdaj Tenet has a shot of at least claiming that milestone. It’ll depend on A) if theaters can open, B) how wide WB slates Tenet and C) how good and kid-friendly the PG-13 action movie turns out to be. I do not know just how wide Warner Bros. intends to release Tenet in America when the time comes, although I imagine at the very least every available IMAX theater (of which there are 18 in California, Arizona and New York) will be put into service.
If we presume a mostly “normal” wide release save for a few key states, then it’s not hard to imagine the film grossing far less than it otherwise would have under ideal circumstances and still opening above $26 million Fri-Sun/$30 million Fri-Mon opening weekend of Rob Zombie’s Halloween. A $29 million Fri-Mon debut would put it over the inflation-adjusted debut of Transporter 2 ($20 million in 2005) while a $41 million Fri-Mon gross would put it over the inflation-adjusted launch of the 2007 slasher remake.
Had the $200 million-budgeted original opened under ideal circumstances in July of this year, it likely would have opened somewhere between $55 and $85 million. Matthew McConaughey’s Medzvezdni, which had mixed-positive reviews and, presumably, less action than the globetrotting espionage flick, opened with $49 million in 2014. Leonardo DiCaprio’s Inception opened, on a wave of rave reviews and at the tail end of a miserable summer movie season, with $62 million in July of 2010 ($73 million adjusted).
Those numbers are presumably no longer in play. For that matter, neither Washington nor Pattinson are DiCaprio-level stars. However, if the movie opens somewhat wide and enough moviegoers feel comfortable showing up, Tenet could score Nolan’s lowest opening weekend since Prestige ($14.8 million in 2006)) and still open above $27 million over the Fri-Sun frame.
There are plenty of ways this might not happen, like if WB opens it in only 500 American theaters. If the film opens in 2,000 theaters (as opposed to a standard over/under 3,500 theaters for a tentpole) and earns $6,000 per-theater, it’ll be just $12 million for the Fri-Sun frame. Ditto if it plays like one of the adult-skewing thrillers often released over this holiday (The Constant Gardener, The Debt, The American, etc.) and pulls $8,000 per-theater on 2,000 screens for a $16 million debut.
However, a per-theater average on par with Medzvezdni ($13,946 in 3,591 theaters) for just 2,000 theaters would give Tenet $27 million for the Fri-Sun frame. The Labor Day weekend is such an historically small one for new movies that Tenet could easily open well below pre-coronavirus expectations and still break Halloween’s Labor Day weekend record. Yes, Warner Bros. choosing to open it on a Thursday implies that they aren’t chasing any short-term records, but they may end up with one entirely by default.