‘Tenet’ had a normal Labor Day box office, which is great news for COVID-19



People, please. Stop going to the movies!

After multiple delays, Tenet finally hit U.S. theaters on Sept. 4, just a week after the movie’s international opening on Aug. 28. Through Sunday of this three-day weekend, it’s earned an estimated $20.2 million at the U.S. box office.

That’s not a huge start for a Christopher Nolan-directed sci-fi mindfuck that was meant to open as a mid-summer 2020 blockbuster. But even if Tenet makes zero dollars on Labor Day – which is highly unlikely – a $20.2 million opening would put it right in the middle of Labor Day weekend’s all-time “Top 10” at the box office.

Tenet is faring even better outside the United States, with an accumulated international total of $126 million from non-U.S. theaters. But the pandemic threat also isn’t quite as dire outside the U.S., where countries haven’t been subjected to mismanagement by an incompetent and criminally self-absorbed president.

It’s fair to say that Tenet isn’t performing the way Warner Bros. had hoped it would before COVID-19 shut down moviegoing for months, but not by as much as you might think. With the exception of his latter two Batman movies, The Dark Knight and The Dark Knight Rises, Nolan’s movies have generally opened in the $50 million to $60 million range. 

Tenet will probably close Labor Day weekend with close to $30 million if Monday viewings hold up. Fewer people are going to the movies, definitely, but numerous states that house major markets – including New York and California – are still partially or completely shut down for moviegoers. And I can tell you anecdotally that drive-in theaters aren’t necessarily getting the new releases on day one.

All of which is to say: From a purely business perspective, Tenet‘s likely $30 million-ish domestic opening weekend is pretty good, all things considered. But from a “we’d really like this pandemic nightmare to end” perspective, it’s the opposite. 

It means people are going to movie theaters, spending two hours or more sitting in an enclosed space and surrounded by other moviegoers. Exposing themselves needlessly to COVID-19 in the process. Theater capacity has been pared down to 50 percent or even less in some cases, but concessions are still a thing and that means masks are coming off.

Sorry to be a buzzkill. It’s simply not safe to go to the movies right now. Theaters are doing their best to keep visitors healthy. There’s admittedly all sorts of reasons to justify those efforts, too – including keeping an army of employees at work across multiple industries. I’m happy for all of those people who get to go back to work. (Though I’d be happier if the federal government supported U.S. society a little more directly in the midst of a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic.)

It’s also worth acknowledging that now, six months into this global pandemic, the risk calculation for many people may be swinging more toward taking some chances. It’s hard to be locked up and cut off from day-to-day social life. Tenet is a brand new and much-hyped movie, opening during a long weekend when many of us would like to be cutting loose.

It’s still a risk though, and a bigger one than anyone needs to take at this point. Especially while the weather’s still warm in lots of places. Tenet may mark a much-needed win for Warner Bros. and Hollywood, but if it’s the kickstart for moviegoing that it’s been framed as again and again, Tenet‘s box office success is an even bigger win for COVID-19.





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