Tenet Box Office: Christopher Nolan's Thriller Struggles In Its Second Week, But Also Crosses A Milestone

Himesh Patel, Robert Pattinson and John David Washington in Tenet

Taking a risk and debuting domestically over the extended Labor Day holiday weekend, Christopher Nolan's Tenet had what can really only be described as a mediocre opening at the box office. While the film, sporting a budget of approximately $200 million (before marketing and publicity costs), probably would have ended up being one of the biggest release of 2020 under normal circumstances, it ultimately was only able to make about $20 million in its first few days on the big screen.

Given this total (which was reported at the time to just be for Friday, Saturday and Sunday), I noted in my column last week that a standard 40-60 percent drop would yield a second weekend score between $8-12 million... but now the latest numbers are in, and it seems that COVID-19 has taken another bite out of the earnings.

Per Variety, Tenet made only $6.7 million during its second Friday-to-Sunday, which calculates to a 66.5 percent drop from weekend to weekend (though the trade notes that the film actually only made an estimated $9 million in the same three day time span last week, as the $20 million figure came from including Thursday previews and Labor Day holiday estimates). Of course, ticket sales are deeply affected by the fact that not all theaters in America are currently open (major markets like Los Angeles, New York, and San Francisco are still keeping them closed) and those in operation around the country are working with limited capacity audiences in promotion of health and safety.

Unfortunately, we can't say for certain right now how much the movie has made total thus far in its domestic run, as Warner Bros. is currently not providing the industry with normal daily box office reports, with the studio evidently fearing the appearance of the numbers without context

As noted last week, there has been a particular focus on Tenet's release given the fact was set up to be a guinea pig of sorts for the industry to get a grasp on the potential of releasing a big blockbuster movie during the on-going pandemic, and thus far the reaction hasn't exactly been positive. Warner Bros. itself responded to the opening weekend box office numbers by shifting their next big title, Patty Jenkins' Wonder Woman 1984, from October 2 to December 25 (it's unclear presently what this means for Denis Villeneuve's Dune, which just debuted its first trailer and is currently scheduled to come out on December 18). Universal Pictures also moved one of its high-profile fall titles, as Nia DaCosta's Candyman will no longer come out on October 16 and instead will be moved to an unspecified weekend in 2021.

That being said, there are other major titles that haven't budged. Cate Shortland's Black Widow is still on the calendar from November 6; and both Cary Fukunaga's No Time To Die and Pixar's Soul are scheduled for November 20. Obviously we will keep you updated with any news if those dates change.

The news isn't all bad for Tenet, however, as the the foreign box office is providing the film with a nice silver lining in its business narrative. While America continues to struggle with the onslaught of COVID-19, other countries that have been more successful dealing with the pandemic are seeing plenty of people buy tickets to see the Christopher Nolan film. Last weekend the blockbuster was on the verge of making $150 million globally, but now it has managed to successfully cross the $200 million milestone. It's not surprising to see international audiences embrace a new release from Nolan, as almost all of his features have made more money abroad than domestically, but usually the ratio isn't so extreme.

It only being Tenet's second weekend domestically, we can't say for certain what its fully box office picture is going to look like by the time it's done with its theatrical run, but it most certainly will be extremely influential on the immediate future of the industry. As always, stay tuned for more details and news as it develops here on CinemaBlend.

Eric Eisenberg
Assistant Managing Editor

Eric Eisenberg is the Assistant Managing Editor at CinemaBlend. After graduating Boston University and earning a bachelor’s degree in journalism, he took a part-time job as a staff writer for CinemaBlend, and after six months was offered the opportunity to move to Los Angeles and take on a newly created West Coast Editor position. Over a decade later, he's continuing to advance his interests and expertise. In addition to conducting filmmaker interviews and contributing to the news and feature content of the site, Eric also oversees the Movie Reviews section, writes the the weekend box office report (published Sundays), and is the site's resident Stephen King expert. He has two King-related columns.