Tenet was solid. While I was largely critical in my review of the film because I didn’t think its first act did a decent enough job of explaining what was to come (think about how much time Nolan spent explaining the rules in Inception and Interstellar and then compare that information to what was provided in Tenet), I still enjoyed the movie and desperately want to see again. As I said on Post Cred Pod last week, I think that the film’s current 74% critic score (76% audience score) on Rotten Tomatoes is a fair reflection of the film’s quality. BUT, if I could better understand the plot on a second viewing, I could easily see my own personal rating of the film jumping up to where Nolan’s films usually score, which is in the high-80s.
With all that said, I still think Warner Bros. made the wrong decision when it comes to their release of the film. Not only did they go through multiple release dates during the summer — with each release date shift costing them more money — but they essentially ignored what was always the best option for the film, which was delaying it until 2021. If you’re following the old tenant that “no news is good news”, Tenet has failed miserably in that regard. Comparatively, there are movies like Black Widow and No Time To Die, who immediately shifted their release dates to November (and will likely do so again if the situation doesn’t improve), or Fast 9, which bit the bullet first thing and moved to 2021 right from the get-go.
Now, due to the realities of that bad decision — whether it be due to Christopher Nolan’s stubbornness or their own over-bloated optimism — Warner Bros. is acting shady with their Tenet box office numbers.
According to Variety, while Warner Bros. claimed Tenet pulled in a $20 million domestic debut, “a closer dissection of those numbers reveal they were heavily spun to include weekday preview screenings and the long holiday weekend” and that “in reality, Tenet only made about $9 million between Friday and Sunday.” That number dropped by 29% this past weekend, as the film only brought in $6.7 million.
Not only are they deceptively conflating their totals, but now “in an attempt to control the conversation around box office performance, Warner Bros. has been shielding domestic grosses for the film.
Traditionally, studios share box office information on a daily basis, but that hasn’t been the case with “Tenet.” The studio took a bold bet since “Tenet” was the first major movie to debut during the pandemic, and Warner Bros. claims that it wants to ensure that reporters and rivals don’t unfairly contextualize the results and label them a financial flop.
Warner Bros. knew the film would have a slow start amid the pandemic, but the studio was clearly hoping that “Tenet” would perform better in the U.S. [via Variety]
To be fair, Tenet’s box office total was always destined to be a slow burn, as only about 70% of U.S. markets are currently open, with the two biggest — New York and Los Angeles — still shuddered.
While Warner Bros. may be avoiding transparency when it comes to their data, their decisions tell another story, as another one of their tentpole projects, Wonder Woman 1984, was recently pushed back from October to late December.
Don’t get me wrong, Warner Bros. (who have a reputation of being filmmaker-friendly) is probably my favorite of the major Hollywood studios, but that doesn’t change the fact that rushing Tenet into theaters into the middle of an unprecedented pandemic was the wrong call. Instead of breaking industry traditions and keeping their numbers to themselves, they should be sharing them with the rest of Hollywood so that everyone else can better navigate the coming months. Warner Bros. made their bed – now they have to lie in it.
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