Release of ‘Tenet’ Could Be a Bellwether for Movie Exhibitors

Major Hollywood movies are finally being released in movie theaters, with “The New Mutants,” which had a $70+ million budget, and director Christopher Nolan’s “Tenet,” a $200 million thriller. But it’s still unclear how many people in the U.S. feel safe enough to go inside. Abroad, “Tenet” raked in $53 million on its opening day weekend from 41 global markets, a source of optimism for Warner Bros. (the film opens in the U.S. and China this week). Pirates have been foiled, meanwhile, fooled into downloading fake torrents of the blockbuster.

The New York Times reports that when a reporter went to the Regal Sunset Station to watch a 7:00 pm showing of “The New Mutants,” only 28 people showed up. Exhibitor executives believe that “Tenet” will drive people back into movie theaters in force, but “megamovies work only if lots of people leave their houses and buy tickets to see them in theaters.” If that doesn’t pan out, NYT adds, “studios may have to start making less expensive films.”

One factor is that COVID-19 is still a threat, and “studio research has indicated that the majority of Americans are not ready to immediately return to theaters, even with theater companies promoting a wide array of safety procedures.” That’s why they have continued to debut movies via on-demand streaming services. LightShed Partners founder Rich Greenfield said that, “moviegoing will not disappear, but there will not be enough demand (nor supply of content) to support 40,000+ screens in the U.S.”

According to the National Association of Theatre Owners, the U.S. is home to 40,998 movie screens. Cinemark chief executive Mark Zoradi recently predicted that the box office will be relatively “normalized” by 2022.

The Wall Street Journal reports that, with regard to the international box office of “Tenet,” Warner Bros. Pictures Group chair Toby Emmerich stated, “given the unprecedented circumstances of this global release we know we’re running a marathon, not a sprint.” Although AMC Entertainment, Cineworld, Regal Entertainment and Cinemark have been “gradually reopening,” theaters in major domestic markets including New York and Los Angeles, are still closed.

For that reason, Disney’s “The New Mutants” grossed $7 million in its opening weekend from about 2,400 theaters in the U.S. and Canada. But that’s still an improvement from the $4.2 million that Solstice Studios’ “Unhinged” earned last weekend, “Hollywood’s first true test case of a wide release since the pandemic shut theaters in the U.S. in March.” That movie has since grossed $8.8 million domestically. For “Tenet,” exhibitors plan to “show the film on as many screens as possible to compensate for reduced capacity.”

China is “leagues ahead of the U.S. in terms of moviegoing.” Comscore reported that the Chinese historical war drama “The Eight Hundred” has made $270+ million since its August 17 debut.

Meanwhile, TorrentFreak reports that, “thousands of people are being tricked into downloading fake copies” of “Tenet,” not all of them pirates. One expert stated that this movie’s release is “perfect storm for piracy.” In fact, “sites are overwhelmed with fake ‘Tenet’ releases.” For those who download, not only will they not get the movie but quite possibly “malware, viruses and worse.”