I was just telling a friend on Monday that Warner Bros. had to be crushed by the box-office performance of Hollywood’s first would-be blockbuster of the pandemic era and would no doubt rethink its next release. After much prodding from Christopher Nolan, the leading filmmaker in the Warner stable and a person that studio would do pretty much anything to please, Warners agreed to be the first studio to take a gamble on putting out a big picture in hopes that a large audience would turn up. It didn’t.
Despite having no competition whatsoever — there’s not a single other major release in the marketplace, meaning multiplexes could show it on every screen and give every ticket-buyer a capacious buffer zone — Tenet debuted with a dismal domestic haul of $20.2 million over the holiday weekend. Warners was hoping for double, maybe triple, that figure. Americans are signaling that they’re simply too scared to go back to the movies. Variety estimated that roughly two-thirds of American theaters are back in business, excluding some of the highest-grossing ones in L.A. and New York, but even if you account for that, Tenet is a flop given its reported $205 million budget. Warners flacks have said hopefully that the picture will be in theaters for weeks to come. Maybe, but the audience isn’t going to be less fearful next week or the week after.
Warners was also stepping up and volunteering to release the second tentpole picture of the pandemic era: Wonder Woman 1984, which the studio originally had slated as its June blockbuster, was, after several delays, set for October 2. Until today. Warners now says the movie won’t be released until Christmas Day. We’re looking at a dismal fall for moviegoing.