Once a dangerous pandemic swept the globe, no movie was ever going to gross what it was before that. In fact, most movies and studios are so afraid of how little movies will make during covid-19, release dates have been pushed months, even years.
The one big blockbuster that opened in spite of all of that was Christopher Nolan’s Tenet. Nolan, a major proponent of the theatrical experience who shoots large chunks of his movies in IMAX, was said to be very adamant that his film would be released only in theaters. Advertising for it said as much, touting its arriving only on the big screen. The result was complicated, to say the least.
Tenet has grossed almost $350 million worldwide with a little over $50 million of that coming in the United States. You can look at that in a bunch of ways. On one hand, maybe it was a flop in the U.S. On the other hand, no other new movies made close to that over the same time period. With that context, maybe it was a hit. And yet, there was also no competition so maybe it should have made more. Then there’s the relative win overseas, where $300 million wouldn’t normally be amazing, but it also wouldn’t be bad, and it’s amazing during a pandemic.
So, again, it’s complicated. And the Los Angeles Times finally got a chance to speak to the director about the situation.
“Warner Bros. released Tenet, and I’m thrilled that it has made almost $350 million,” Nolan told the paper. “But I am worried that the studios are drawing the wrong conclusions from our release—that rather than looking at where the film has worked well and how that can provide them with much needed revenue, they’re looking at where it hasn’t lived up to pre-covid expectations and will start using that as an excuse to make exhibition take all the losses from the pandemic instead of getting in the game and adapting—or rebuilding our business, in other words.”
Basically he’s saying Tenet shouldn’t be seen as an example of why movies could fail, it should be an example of how they can succeed. International box office has long been a huge part of Hollywood’s bottom line and even more so in recent years. Nolan seems to be suggesting Tenet’s success there means Hollywood should focus its releases in other market and not the U.S., where theaters that are open are not enjoying even a fraction of their pre-covid success.
Whether that will happen or not remains to be seen. But if cases of covid-19 continue to rise in the U.S., there is a very, very good chance Nolan’s words will ring true. As a result, though the U.S. usually gets Hollywood movies before the rest of the world, it may become second fiddle in its own industry.
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