Tenet’s performance seems to really be hurting theaters.
Warner Bros. really wants to make sure we all know it isn’t a flop. No, it isn’t the billion-dollar movie they were hoping for, but as soon as the COVID-19 pandemic reared its ugly head, they had to re-strategize. They couldn’t bank on the film taking in $55 million in its opening weekend in the U.S., so their strategy was a film with a long tail. With them pushing Wonder Woman to December, this strategy is all the more evident. But what may work for them may not work for theaters.
Yes, the box office for Tenet may work for Warner Bros. in the long term, but it really seems to be hurting theaters. In its second weekend, the movie took in a meager $6.7 million, something that would have been a mammoth flop under other circumstances.
“‘Tenet’ is a big movie, Christopher Nolan is a big director, and Warner Bros. is a big studio, but there’s one thing they can’t control, and that’s their audience,” Showroom Cinema and Beach Cinema owner Mike Sodano told Variety. “I know this is a marathon and not a sprint, but when you look at those numbers, it does not give me confidence that people are ready to come back to theaters.”
To make matters worse, it’s virtually the only new film to hit theaters these days. This means that, outside of that aforementioned $6.7 million worth of customers, there is little else being watched, leaving cinemas virtually empty. According to the outlet, with this in mind, many venues are currently operating at a loss, and are hoping audiences will slowly work their way to the theaters.
“If you open too soon and there’s no product out, or just an OK-performing movie every few months, you’re sitting there with a lot of fixed costs and no revenue coming in,” said Nic Steele, founder and owner of Eclipse Theatre in Las Vegas. “Your cash-burn rate is going to eat up reserves. Whether there’s one guest or 50 guests, a lot of the fixed costs are the same.”
But the actions from studios aren’t promising. While the whole “long-tail” deal may work for one film, it doesn’t seem to be inspiring confidence in studios. Disney may be pushing back Black Widow and Soul from their November releases, and with Warners pushing back Wonder Woman 1984, it does seem like they’re leaving theaters out to dry, especially after they pushed for Tenet to get a theatrical release.
“It feels like distribution has kind of abandoned the movie theaters,” said Brian Schultz, founder and CEO of Studio Movie Grill. “I understand the core economics at play here, but without new product, we can’t keep things going. Christopher Nolan put an amazing stake in the ground with ‘Tenet,’ but now other studios need to follow his lead.”
At the end of the day, studios can survive the pandemic, as many have their own potential distribution platforms. Theaters, however, are solely reliant on the product they put out.
“I want people to know that we’re ready for them to come back to the movies,” says Schultz. “But everything depends on how we all act. If guests come back in droves, then studios will start releasing movies again. If studios start releasing more movies, then audiences will return to theaters. It’s a Catch-22.”
But if releases these days need a long-tail approach in order to be successful, will studios both with theaters for the foreseeable future? That’s one big question that no one has the answer to. Regardless, there is no doubt that this pandemic is hurting theaters.
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