Tenet Box Office Prediction

Blogger’s Note (09/02): On the eve of its premiere, I am upping my estimate from $31.9 million to $36.9 million. Those adjustments are reflected in the numbers below.

Let’s start here – Christopher Nolan’s Tenet is maybe the most challenging box office prediction I’ve ever had to write. This is, of course, mostly due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Yet this isn’t the only reason.

After a series of coronavirus related delays that altered its planned July premiere, the epic spy thriller is set for an extended Labor Day weekend premiere. It marks the latest mega budget (north of $200 million) feature from one of the few directors whose name is the main attraction. The recognizable actors in front of the camera include John David Washington, Robert Pattinson, Elizabeth Debicki, Michael Caine, and Kenneth Branagh.

Tenet is out tomorrow (August 26) in numerous territories including Canada, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, and Italy. The international rollout could provide clues as to how it will perform stateside. That occurs on Thursday, September 3rd and runs through the holiday weekend. Speaking of Labor Day, this is traditionally considered a slow weekend at the box office as the summer season draws to a close. Like everything else this year, 2020 is far different.

While Unhinged and this weekend’s The New Mutants are the first two wide releases post COVID, Tenet is by far the most eagerly awaited and high profile. There was never any doubt that this would open theatrically and on some IMAX venues. The VOD route was never explored. While a screen count is not yet available, I’m currently assuming it’ll be around 2500. If that changes, my prediction might too.

Reviews are mostly solid with a Rotten Tomatoes score of 82%. That said, some critical reaction is a bit on the mixed side. Unlike 2017’s Dunkirk, this follow-up is not generating immediate awards buzz. As mentioned, Nolan is a bankable commodity with or without Oscar chatter. You have to go back to 2006’s The Prestige to find the last entry in his filmography to gross under $100 million domestically. Both Dunkirk and its predecessor Interstellar grossed close to $200 million overall in the States. His Batman trilogy and Inception all took in north of $200 million or far more.

So where does that leaves us? Looking at Interstellar and Dunkirk, both titles achieved per theater averages of just over $13,000 for respective starts of $47 million and $50 million. The difference is that Interstellar began on 3500+ plus screens and Dunkirk at 3700+.

Due to the lower availability of venues (especially in major markets like NYC and LA) and the ongoing uncertainty of major audience turnout, giving Tenet a $10,000 per screen average would equate to around $25 million for the traditional Friday to Sunday portion of its five-day start. I’m choosing to ratchet that up to $25.7 million. Adding Thursday and Labor Day in, I’ll kick in another $11.2 million.

Let’s end here – I am still in severe guesstimating mode and Tenet is undoubtedly the first giant test case in this new cinematic reality. Over the next few days, it’s certainly feasible that I will update this estimate. We shall see, but here’s where I stand as of now.

Tenet opening weekend prediction (Thursday, September 3-Monday, September 7): $36.9 million

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