Warner Bros.’ ‘Tenet’ Rakes in $20.2 Million in Long-Awaited US Debut; Closes in on $150 Million Globally

Labor Day weekend gave us our first glimpse at what a blockbuster looks like in the age of COVID-19. Christopher Nolan’s long-delayed brainteaser, Tenet, was the first major test of US movie exhibition in the coronavirus pandemic. Now, with receipts tallied, it appears the Warner Bros. film passed that test. The twisty, PG-13 thriller starring John David Washington, Robert Pattinson, Kenneth Branagh, and Elizabeth Debicki opened with $20.2 million domestically in 2,810 theaters (an impressive $7,189 per-theater average) over the long holiday weekend.

Nolan’s blockbuster-scaled film was originally slated for release back in July, but unlike other big Hollywood tentpoles, such as Marvel’s The Eternals and the Fast and the Furious sequel F9, which opted to pushed their releases to 2021, Warner Bros. decided on a 2020 opening for what’s been regarded as one of the year’s buzziest titles. Nolan’s film has also resonated overseas, where it pulled in $126 million over two weekends for a total box-office cumulative of $146.2 million. All told, the movie is now playing in 46 international markets on 52,913 screens.

Tenet’s opening weekend numbers would be fairly unremarkable for a Nolan film under normal circumstances. But its $20.2 million domestic debut has to be considered a qualified triumph—and the first real sign that moviegoing is finally rousing from its six-month slumber. Those numbers might have been even higher, but Warner Bros. refused to allow Nolan’s film (which has been met with 74% positive reviews from critics on Rotten Tomatoes) to play in drive-ins in cities where indoor theaters were still shuttered, including Los Angeles and New York City.

For historical comparison, Nolan’s bow with Tenet was closer to 2006’s The Prestige ($14.8 million domestic) than the similarly-themed 2010 brainteaser Inception ($62.79 million domestic). However, the visionary director’s latest should see its box-office fortunes continue to rise in the coming weeks as more cities re-open—not to mention that that it will not face any major competition at the box office until Wonder Woman 1984 arrives on October 2.

Finishing in the runner-up slot was Fox’s The New Mutants. After eking out a lackluster $7 million last weekend, the poorly reviewed PG-13-rated X-Men spin-off brought in an additional $3.6 million in its second weekend in 2,754 theaters (for a $1,307 average). Its total domestic gross now stands at $12.35 million with an additional $8.5 million coming from overseas for a cumulative $20.85. The film expanded this weekend into such international markets as the UK and Australia.

In third place was Solstice Studios’ Unhinged with $2.2 million. In its fourth week of release, the R-rated road-rage thriller starring Russell Crowe played in 2,402 theaters. The film has grossed a total of $11.83 million domestically and $12 million overseas, bringing its global cumulative box office to $23.83 million.

In fourth was United Artists’ Bill & Ted Face the Music, the third installment in the time-traveling dude comedy starring Keanu Reeves and Alex Winter. In its second weekend, the PG-13 film pulled in $809,794 in 953 theaters, bringing its total domestic gross to $2.3 million. It added a negligible $61,214 overseas.

Rounding out the top five was Paramount’s The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge on the Run, which earned $470,000 in 304 theaters. The PG-rated animated film’s domestic cumulative now stands at $3.44 million. It has yet to open overseas.

Bubbling under the top five were two indies in their second weeks of release. In sixth place was Fox Searchlight’s PG-rated The Personal History of David Copperfield with $430,000 (its $1.09 million domestic total is a drop in the bucket compared to its hefty $9.94 million international take). And in seventh was Roadside Attractions’ Words on Bathroom Walls with $350,135, bringing its domestic cumulative to $1.6 million. The PG-13 film has yet to open overseas.