‘Tenet,’ ‘New Mutants,’ ‘Bill & Ted’ did well in movie theaters, by pandemic standards

NEW YORK – The first wave of big new movies released since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, including Christopher Nolan’s mind-bending thriller “Tenet” and the long-delayed “X-Men” spinoff “The New Mutants,” arrived in theaters over the weekend, testing the waters of a radically different theatrical landscape.

“Tenet” – the most hotly anticipated movie of the year and the one that has repeatedly positioned itself to lead the return of multiplex moviegoing – opened with an estimated $53 million overseas in 41 markets, including most of Europe, South Korea and Canada. The movie opens Sept. 3 in the United States, with screenings as early as Monday in some theaters.

Given the circumstances, it was difficult to forecast the performance of the $200 million “Tenet,” starring John David Washington Robert Pattinson and Elizabeth Debicki. But the result exceeded the expectations of most. Toby Emmerich, chairman of Warner Bros. Pictures Group, called it “a fantastic start.”

“Given the unprecedented circumstances of this global release we know we’re running a marathon, not a sprint, and look forward to long playability for this film,” Emmerich said in a statement.

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While many of Hollywood’s largest productions have postponed their release and others have diverted to streaming platforms, the studio gambled that “Tenet” could roll out abroad first, and then gradually debut in the U.S.

So far, it seems to be working. The overseas opening for “Tenet” was greeted by the industry as proof that blockbuster moviegoing can be resurrected even while the virus continues to circulate and large indoor gatherings are considered risky. Movie theaters are mandating mask wearing, cleaning cinemas in between showings and operating at reduced capacity to distance moviegoers.

“Tenet” opens this week in the U.S. and China, the two largest markets. In the U.S., the conditions remain far from ideal: About 60% of theaters are currently open, including the largest chains, AMC and Regal. Theaters remain closed in several states, including New York and California.

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In the domestic box office, “New Mutants,” a critically panned horror riff, led with an estimated $7 million in 2,412 locations. Cathleen Taff, Disney’s president of global distribution, called it a success for times requiring recalibrated expectations.

“We continue to have faith and believe in the theatrical experience. We think consumers are ready to start having that experience with others sooner rather than later,” Taff said. “We’re very encouraged.”

Disney will next week release the live-action remake of “Mulan” as a $30 digital rental through streaming service Disney+. Originally slated for theatrical release in March, it’s the most expensive movie yet to go straight to the home.

“Bill & Ted Face the Music” debuted Friday as video on demand. The company didn’t provide rental grosses, but it also put “Bill & Ted” in 1,007 North American theaters, where it made just shy of $1.1 million.

Theatrical release may be harder for adult-skewing specialty fare whose audiences are historically harder to get out of the house. “The Personal History David Copperfield,” a Charles Dickens adaptation by Armando Iannucci (“Veep”), opened with $520,000 from 1,360 theaters.

Final numbers are expected Monday.

Contributing: Kim Willis, USA TODAY

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