It’s no secret that movies live and die by their box office numbers, so a lot of why so many films are holding off on releasing during the pandemic. In fact, we just learned that Wonder Woman 1984 has been pushed back yet again to Christmas 2020. Which makes the decision to push Christopher Nolan’s sci-fi thriller Tenet to theaters even stranger. What isn’t so strange is that Warner Bros. is not reporting the film’s box office numbers.
As reported by Variety, Warner Bros. has been very selective with what information it has put out about the film. They reported late on Sunday that Tenet made $20 million in its opening weekend, only 10% of its $200 million budget. Again, that number makes a lot of sense, given that most theaters are not open. But Warner Bros. was apparently paranoid about how journalists would spin the news as a failure, reminding reporters of the limited market for the film, especially since Los Angeles and New York are essentially closed. But the studio has also failed to report daily figures, which has angered other studios.
As the first major release to come out in the traditional format, Tenet would provide a lot of hope for other studios, or a cautionary tale for them to continue wait out the pandemic. However, the fact that Warner Bros. is not releasing more information about the release has other studios on edge. The only other case study they have is Disney putting Mulan up on its streaming service for a premium fee. According to Variety, insider sources are arguing that Warner Bros. has no obligation to share its numbers, which is true.
Warner Bros. holding onto the box office totals for Tenet is a big deal. They took a huge gamble, and the payout has ramifications for the entire industry. At the same time, reporting those numbers could mean a huge hit for the studio, especially where its board is concerned. So while it’s no shock that they are trying to keep Tenet‘s lackluster numbers quiet, it does not bode well for us seeing any other big movies anytime soon. Either that, or studios are about to look at streaming and VOD options much more carefully.