Weekend Box Office Forecast: Tenet Readies for Wide Domestic Launch as Theatrical Re-Openings Continue in Time for Labor Day

Photo Credits: Hoyte van Hoytema & Warner Bros. ("Tenet"), dir. Christopher Nolan

Thursday, September 3 Update: We’ve updated forecasts for Tenet slightly in the chart below, while also including confirmed an estimated location counts received from various studios (also below).

Wednesday, September 2 Report: Following a staggered lead-up over the past two weekends with positive early results from the domestic market, North America is gearing up for its first tentpole release in more than half a year with Christopher Nolan’s long-awaited Tenet.

Last week, we broke down what to possibly expect from Tenet‘s long-term performance in theaters — a perspective that remains very important. This week, we’re focusing primarily on the imminent weekend ahead and what to possibly expect from the very beginning of a long cinematic life.

The film has been screening in special sneak previews at select locations in the United States with shows on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday this week. Tenet also opened in Canada last weekend, but Warner Bros. has understandably remained mum on the box office performance of the film in both cases, instead focusing on the strong international debut last week.

Likewise, the studio has yet to confirm how all of the North American grosses pre-Friday will be counted. We could see them rolled into this week’s dailies, into this weekend’s numbers, or none of the above. In short, forecasts and projections are highly volatile and filled with multiple scenarios — something everyone is becoming accustomed to in the pandemic era. A detailed studio report of grosses is anticipated by this coming Sunday, though we hope it will be sooner.

Further adding to that volatility is the eleventh hour news that 70 percent of AMC locations in California will be allowed to open in time for Tenet this weekend. Multiple sources report that Regal and Cinemark will also be opening locations in California, New Jersey, and other markets in time for the holiday frame.

Variable seating capacities remain in effect across all states, and as noted in previous reports, moviegoer sentiment is likely to result in some patrons coming back sooner than others. While the market will still not be at full operational capacity, this news is a major confidence booster for Tenet and how it could perform during the early days of what is expected to be a long run defined by its week-to-week holds — not selective grosses of opening day(s).

In all, we’re estimating 70 percent of the domestic market will be open this weekend and are awaiting confirmation on potentially higher figures. Tenet itself will have a firm grip on as large of a footprint as it needs at open locations. Unofficial estimates peg its theater count north of 2,750, with some indicators that it could approach 3,000. Of course, the film will dominate the premium format market, with IMAX in particular expected to be a major driver.

On Showtimes Dashboard, Tenet currently accounts for 44 percent of all booked showtimes from a sample of 2,014 locations between September 3 and September 10. The New Mutants claims 21 percent from 2,018 locations, while Unhinged sits at 11 percent from 1,888.

In terms of how this weekend could break down, it’s wild west of box office calculations and temporary presumptions. The operative bet is that Warner might count Canada’s opening weekend (August 28 – 30), the States’ sneak preview earnings (August 31 – September 2), and Thursday, September 3’s “official” opening day as separate figures from the forthcoming weekend proper.

That means the three- and four-day weekend tallies would exclude all of those earnings, and in that scenario, we anticipate Tenet could reach $17 – 20 million between Friday and Sunday, with $20 – 25 million possible for the four-day holiday haul. Should consumer demand pop in this unprecedented situation and starved market, the picture — and box office — could easily over-index.

Internal observations of pre-sales for the United States’ sneak previews have suggested the film may end up generating more than $2 million across all three nights, with some models trending closer to $3 million or more. Adding in a potential Thursday opening of $3 million by itself, along with Canada’s opening last weekend, we’re projecting Tenet to reach $30 million or more for a domestic cume through the end of Monday, September 7. Our more bullish models point to a sum between $35 million and $40 million.

Again, these figures are highly volatile in the COVID-19 era when considering the film’s unique launch strategy. Even more critically, they are not the baseline barometer for success — merely forecasts based on limited data. It’s entirely possible for Tenet to open below these ranges and still be viewed as a successful start with an eye toward the long game.

To hit repeat, the story on this film — and the theatrical restart as a whole — will only be in its infancy at the end of the holiday weekend. It will be crucial to observe the day-to-day and week-to-week holds throughout September and beyond.

Domestic Holdovers

In addition to Tenet‘s big domestic entrance this week, we could see strong holds from the other titles available in the market. Labor Day is historically a frame where very few new films enter the market, and even though moviegoers are easing out of summer movie season, titles typically hold very well.

This year is obviously quite different with the populous having completely missed out on summer (and spring) releases, so pent-up demand could result in this becoming an abnormally attractive weekend for moviegoers ready to return to cinemas.

The New Mutants is likely to be hit hardest due to the combination of its fan-driven nature, mixed reception, and loss of premium theaters to the Nolan epic. Beyond that, Bill & Ted Face the Music, Unhinged, and The Personal History of David Copperfield will provide fair counter-programming options in wide release.

Not to be overlooked is the limited Warner Bros. re-issue of 42, the biopic of Jackie Robinson in honor of star Chadwick Boseman’s tragic and untimely passing last week. The studio reports to Boxoffice PRO that the film will run in at least 740 locations starting this weekend.

Our forecasts below may shift before Friday once we received updated location counts for all titles.

Tenet and Mulan Overseas

After generating $53.6 million from its opening week overseas, Tenet will expand to more key territories this weekend. Most notably, its release in China will be in focus after the success of Nolan re-releases like Interstellar and Inception in the Middle Kingdom. Russia and a handful of other markets are also on the docket for this weekend.

The New Mutants will open in an additional 20 markets this weekend, including the United Kingdom, Italy, Russia, Australia, Mexico, and more.

Meanwhile, Mulan will open in several small markets like Croatia, Czech Republic, Middle East, Slovakia, Malaysia, and others. Disney is pushing Mulan to Disney+ domestically this weekend, but still providing a theatrical release in countries where the streaming service isn’t available. Its more notable box office performances are likely to be after September 10, though, with Russia releasing it September 10, China on September 11, and Korea on September 17.

Domestic Weekend Forecast Ranges

  • Tenet ($18 – 23 million three-day / $22 – 27 million four-day / $30 – 40 million domestic cume through Labor Day)

Estimated Theater Counts

  • Tenet (2,750+ — unconfirmed by Warner Bros.)
  • The New Mutants (2,754 confirmed by Disney)
  • The Personal History of David Copperfield (1,550 confirmed by Disney)
  • Words on Bathroom Walls (1,168 confirmed by Roadside Attractions)
  • Bill & Ted Face the Music (953 confirmed by United Artists Releasing)

Weekend Forecast (Wide Releases)

Film Distributor 4-Day Weekend Forecast Projected Domestic Total through Monday, September 7 % Change from Last Wknd
Tenet Warner Bros. $24,500,000 $35,000,000 n/a
The New Mutants Disney / 20th Century Studios $3,900,000 $12,700,000 -44%
Unhinged Solstice Studios $2,200,000 $11,760,000 -16%
Bill & Ted Face the Music United Artists Releasing $835,000 $2,360,000 -26%
The Personal History of David Copperfield Disney / Searchlight Pictures $450,000 $1,090,000 -6%

All forecasts subject to change before Friday.

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Photo Credits: Hoyte van Hoytema & Warner Bros. ("Tenet"), dir. Christopher Nolan