‘Audiences are slowly going back’: ‘Tenet’ takes in $6.7M, ‘Mulan’ struggles in China

Moviegoing audiences in North America aren’t rushing back to the theater just yet, and “Mulan” is also faltering in its China release as the global box office slowly comes back in the COVID-19 era.

In the second major weekend for U.S. and Canadian movie theaters, Christopher Nolan’s “Tenet” earned only $6.7 million from 2,910 locations, according to studio estimates released Sunday. The sci-fi thriller was viewed as the main litmus test for whether audiences were ready to embrace the theatrical experience again, after nearly six months of theaters being shuttered by the pandemic.

Although that was enough to top the scattershot domestic releases, it also isn’t enough to jump-start the struggling theater industry. Warner Bros. has already pushed back its next major release, “Wonder Woman 1984,” even further.

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The weekend’s only major new movie was the PG-13 rom-com “The Broken Hearts Gallery,” which earned an estimated $1.1 million from 2,204 North American locations.

The film, from first-time writer director Natalie Krinsky and executive produced by Selena Gomez, is about a 20-something gallerist played by Geraldine Viswanathan who creates an art exhibit with souvenirs from her past relationships. The studio is optimistic about its performance and potential.

“The early numbers are really encouraging,” says Adrian Smith, president of Sony Pictures domestic distribution, noting that the film will have a slow roll out as more theaters continue to open.

Roughly two-thirds of the domestic market is open and theaters are operating at limited capacity and with limited showtimes. Two of the country’s biggest markets, New York and Los Angeles, remain closed. North Carolina, Michigan and New Mexico theaters remain closed, as well as those in Seattle and Portland.

Other notable domestic weekend numbers include “The New Mutants,” which added $2.1 million from 2,704 locations in its third weekend and Russell Crowe’s revenge thriller “Unhinged,” which earned an additional $1.5 million in week four.

“Every week is a bit of a litmus test about how potential moviegoers are feeling about going to the theater,” says Paul Dergarabedian, Comscore’s senior media analyst. “Audiences are slowly going back.”

But, “you can’t apply the norms of how we analyze or report the box office,” with Dergarabedian likening the current situation to a “relaunch” or a “reboot” of the movie theater.

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The landscape is more encouraging internationally, where “Tenet” this weekend added more than $30 million, pushing its global total to $207 million.

But new movies are not enough on their own. In China, Disney’s “Mulan” had a disappointing debut of only $23.2 million. The low launch nonetheless claimed the No. 1 spot in the country, where an estimated 91% of theaters are open but limited to 50% capacity. The studio noted that the opening is around the same level as “Cinderella” and “Maleficent: Mistress of Evil.”

Globally, “Mulan” has earned $37.6 million to date, although that number isn’t representative of the total earnings. The live-action epic, which has also been embroiled in controversy over its filming location, isn’tplaying in North American theaters.

Instead, it is available as a $30 rental on the company’s Disney+ service. The streaming earnings were not made available.

But pre-COVID metrics of success and failure are difficult to apply, especially to the first films out of the gates. And it might be that way for a while, Dergarabedian says.

“We are not in a traditional marketplace and we are not in a traditional mode of analyses,” he says. “It’s going to take some time to properly assess the long-term impact of the pandemic.”

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