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Box Office: 'Tenet' Crosses $250 Million Globally, But Continues to Stall in the U.S.

Rebecca Rubin
·4 mins read

By Rebecca Rubin

LOS ANGELES, Sept 20, (Variety.com) - Christopher Nolan's "Tenet" hit an important milestone, crossing the $250 million mark at the global box office.

That benchmark is bolstered by international revenues, where the sci-fi thriller has surpassed $200 million in ticket sales. But in the U.S., "Tenet" is still struggling to attract audiences. The movie brought in $4.7 million in its third weekend, bringing North American grosses to an underwhelming $36.1 million.

As the first major film to release in theaters since the pandemic, "Tenet" has tested the waters to see how willing people are to return to the movies during a global heath crisis. Warner Bros., the studio behind the $200 million-budgeted film, again stressed the film's theatrical run will be a marathon, not a sprint. The hope is that without much competition in terms of new Hollywood tentpoles, "Tenet" will steadily draw crowds for weeks to come.

It's not just "Tenet" having trouble generating traction among ticket buyers. Given the challenged marketplace, every movie is facing headwinds at the box office. Though 70% of cinemas in the U.S. have reopened, venues in New York and Los Angeles -- two areas that account for a bulk of the country's ticket sales -- are still closed. Multiplexes that have reopened are operating at reduced capacity to ensure physical distancing during the pandemic. However, executives are optimistic that movies will continue to see an increase in sales as additional markets are given permission to turn marquee lights back on.

A glint of optimism: Theaters in the greater Los Angeles area, including Orange County, that reopened have accounted for a bulk of this weekend's ticket sales. Among the highest-grossing venues, three of the top five -- and five out of the top 10 -- were in California despite the fact that 80% of theaters in the state are still closed. Studio bosses are taking that as a sign that when Los Angeles and other popular moviegoing areas reopen, people will turn out to theaters in larger numbers.

Though movie theaters overseas have seen stronger attendance, Disney's live-action "Mulan" continues to fall short of expectations. In China, box office receipts plummeted 72% in its second weekend, with $6.5 million in ticket sales. After a disappointing $23 million debut last weekend, the fantasy epic has made $36 million in China. "Mulan" has generated $57 million globally, a dismal result for a movie that cost $200 million to produce. The film isn't opening in theaters in the U.S. and some European countries, where it's instead launching directly on Disney Plus for a premium fee. Disney hasn't reported how many subscribers shelled out the extra $30 to watch "Mulan" on Disney Plus, but that could help recoup its massive budget.

The only new wide release this weekend was "Infidel," an espionage thriller that was executive produced by conservative political pundit Dinesh D'Souza. It made $1.5 million from 1,724 theaters.

Among holdovers at the domestic box office, Disney's "The New Mutants" earned $1.6 million in its fourth weekend for a North American haul $17.7 million. The "X-Men" sequel also brought in $2 million from 38 international markets, boosting its overseas grosses to $17.3 million and $35 million worldwide.

In its second weekend, Sony's romantic comedy "The Broken Hearts Gallery" dipped 29%, with a meager $800,000. The movie, starring Geraldine Viswanathan, has made $2.4 million to date.

Russell Crowe's thriller "Unhinged" added $1.3 million in its fifth weekend of release, bringing returns to $15.7 million in total.

A few movies opened at the indie box office, including Bleecker Street's World War II drama "The Secrets We Keep" starring Joel Kinnaman and Noomi Rapace. The film, which elicited mixed reviews, amassed $89,955 from 471 theaters in the U.S., averaging $191 per location.

IFC Film's "The Nest" starring Jude Law and Carrie Coon also premiered this weekend. The well-reviewed thriller, centering on a family that relocates from America to England, opened in 301 theaters across the U.S., bringing in $62,000 in total. The specialty studio plans to expand to more theaters in the coming weeks before "The Nest" debuts on demand on Nov. 17.

Elsewhere, "The Way I See It" -- a timely documentary about former White House photographer Pete Souza -- launched in 124 venues, bringing in $25,000. The non-fiction film, directed by Dawn Porter, will air on MSNBC in October and will replay several times ahead of the presidential election.

"I hope this film serves as a reminder about importance of the presidency, but also how the power of the still image in behind-the-scenes moments can reveal the true character of the person holding that office," Souza said.