Director Christopher Nolan defends ‘Tenet’s’ sluggish box office sales


Director Christopher Nolan is defending the theatrical release of his spy thriller “Tenet” during the pandemic, shrugging off a growing consensus in Hollywood that the gambit was a bad idea.

Nolan told The Los Angeles Times that he is “thrilled” with ticket sales — despite the fact that the film starring Robert Pattinson has grossed just $53.8 million since it hit theaters in the US on Sept. 3, and $293.3 abroad for a total of $347.1 million, according to Box Office Mojo.

That’s a far cry from the industry’s pre-pandemic expectations of it garnering between $800 million and $1 billion in sales.

The movie, which cost about $200 million in production before the many millions spent on marketing, is now facing losses of more than $100 million, industry insiders say. According to reports, the movie would have to make at least $500 million to break even — and that’s a conservative estimate by most accounts.

“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,” Nolan said.

The director didn’t directly address the grim math of “Tenet’s” costs versus its returns. But he added that he frets that studios “will start using that as an excuse” to force movie theaters to “take all the losses from the pandemic instead of getting in the game and adapting — or rebuilding our business, in other words.”

Indeed, the pandemic has delivered a crushing blow to movie houses across the country.

AMC, the nation’s largest cinema chain, is working to frantically to raise cash in order to avoid bankruptcy. Meanwhile, Regal, the second largest theater chain, which reopened a majority of its doors over the summer, decided last month to shut down its US, UK and Irish theaters, due to a lack of new releases to draw consumers.

Studio execs closely watched the Warner Bros.-produced film’s debut closely as a litmus test for whether they should release their big budget flicks in movie theaters.

When the dust settled, studios erred on the side of caution, pushing blockbusters such as ‘Black Widow,’ ‘The Batman’, ‘Dune’ and the new James Bond movie, ‘No Time to Die,’ into 2021.

John Stankey, the chief executive of AT&T, which owns Warner Bros., admitted the company regretting releasing ‘Tenet’ in theaters.

“I can’t tell you that we walked away from the ‘Tenet’ experience saying it was a home run,” he told investors during AT&T’s third-quarter earnings call last month. The CEO pointed to the fact that cinemas were closed in major markets like Los Angeles, San Francisco and New York, depriving the flick of a much needed surge in ticket sales.

Stankey added that while he supported movie theaters, he said he is “not optimistic” for a “huge recovery” into the early part of 2021 until the major markets reopen.

Nolan, who also directed the “Dark Night” franchise, “Interstellar” and “Dunkirk,” acknowledged that the pandemic has crushed the movie theater industry, but remained optimistic, citing 2019’s record-breaking $42.5 billion global box office tally as proof.

“Long term, moviegoing is a part of life, like restaurants and everything else,” he said. “But right now, everybody has to adapt to a new reality.”

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