Even becoming the leggiest X-Men movie ever wouldn’t make The New Mutants a hit, but Chris Nolan’s Tenet could pull multipliers close to Interstellar or Inception.
There’s going to be a lot of chatter over the next few months about how to properly dissect the box office numbers. China is essentially back to normal despite capacity limitations. The Eight Hundred is doing every bit as well, $291 million in 11 days (counting $30 million in previews) as it might have done had it opened last summer as intended or this summer sans a pandemic, and it’s expected that Chris Nolan’s Tenet will perform about as well as it might have under conventional circumstances. But the rest of the world, and the rest of the releases, such as Mulan which will play theatrically where Disney+ isn’t an option but be a straight-to-streaming PVOD title in America and elsewhere, will be a tougher nut to crack. For the moment, it’ll partially be “How would this film fare if it were leggy as hell?”
Josh Boone’s oft-delayed and arguably dumped-into-theaters X-Men spin-off opened much lower than it otherwise might have had it opened as intended in April of 2018 (or any of its other pre-coronavirus dates). The difference between opening in 62% of the country sans screenings or screeners as a Walt Disney DIS contractual obligation versus opening on April 13, 2018 as a Fox title specifically targeted for the horror-friendly holiday, months after It nabbed $700 million worldwide, is arguably night and day. Might it have opened closer to $25 million had it debuted sans complications in April of 2018 or even (sans pandemic) April of 2020? Possibly/probably, but it did open with just $7 million, a poor 2.25x multiplier, in its domestic debut. Yes, some folks showed up and heck some folks clearly liked it more than I did (that’s allowed and usually encouraged), but the number is the number.
Yes, the handful of major releases opening between now and November may benefit from much longer legs than we’ve seen in the multiplex era. However, there’s only so much legs can do for a poor opening weekend. This isn’t the Christmas season, Jennifer Lopez’s Second Act can leg out from a $6.4 million debut to a $39 million domestic finish. Adults are working, kids are in school (be it in the classroom or via distance learning) and New Mutants isn’t basking in rave reviews and white-hot buzz. Moreover, the X-Men movies are notoriously frontloaded. Apocalypse ($155 million) and The Last Stand ($235 million) failed to double their Fri-Mon domestic debuts ($78 million and $122 million) in 2016 and 2006 X-Men Origins: Wolverine ($179 million) and Dark Phoenix ($66 million) earned just over/under double their Fri-Sun debuts ($85 million and $33 million) in 2009 and 2019.
X-Men ($157 million from a $54 million domestic debut in 2000), Deadpool ($363 million from a $132 million Fri-Sun/$152 million Fri-Mon debut in 2016) and First Class ($146 million/$55 million in 2011) earned 2.6x-2.9x their domestic debuts. X2, Logan, Deadpool 2 and The Wolverine earned around 2.5x their respective domestic launches. Even if The New Mutants benefits from being one of the only biggies in town between now and November, Disney will likely focus on Mulan. Double the best multiplier ever for an X-Men movie (5.81x), especially if California and New York eventually reopen, would still give The New Mutants $41 million domestic. Such a run would be encouraging for the theatrical industry as a whole, but (presuming the standard 35/65 split) $123 million worldwide would be not nearly good enough for an $80 million movie. On the plus side, Josh Boone’s The Stand looks pretty solid.
In better news, yes, the $53.6 million overseas debut for Chris Nolan’s Tenet is the kind of shot in the arm that movie theaters were desperately hoping for. Whether or not it will single-handedly “save” movie theaters (as opposed to, more likely, earning less than it might have had it opened in better times or next year but keeping the theaters on life support until November), it’s a very encouraging number for a well-reviewed and relatively buzzy sci-fi actioner. That’s around 5.6 million tickets sold on 20,000 screens in 41 territories (including Canada). It earned 25% of that number via IMAX and premium formats, including $5 million (9%) in 250 IMAX auditoriums. It had the biggest opening ever for a Chris Nolan film in eight countries, including Holland, Ukraine and Hungary, while nabbing the biggest opening ever in Saudi Arabia ($1.6 million in 97 theaters).
It nabbed the second-biggest debut in Estonia, which is where part of the film was shot, while dominating in (among other places) the UK ($7 million and 74% of the market share), Germany ($4.5 million/58%) and South Korea ($5.1 million/77%). South Korea is a key territory as A) theaters have been doing quite well even as a potential new outbreak threatens to close them again and B) Interstellar grossed $73 million there in 2014. That was the Matthew McConaughey/Anne Hathaway/Jessica Chastain sci-fi film’s third-biggest territory behind North America ($188 million) and China ($122 million). It was double the film’s $31 million United Kingdom total. For reference, Inception’s biggest markets were North America ($292 million), China ($68 million), the United Kingdom ($56.5 million), Japan ($40 million) and Korea ($32.2 million). If Tenet plays likewise (a 6x multiplier), it’ll earn over/under $30 million in Korea.
Interstellar earned 3.7x its $8.5 million debut in 2014 while Inception earned 6.25x its $9.05 million launch in 2010. Presuming something closer to the latter, due to social distancing and other factors, would give it a UK final gross of $42 million. Tenet earned $6.8 million in France, compared to $8.2 million for Inception (toward an eventual $43.4 million cume) and $5.1 million (out of $19.1 million) for Interstellar. That’s a 5.3x multiplier for Inception and 3.7x for Interstellar. The question is whether the social distancing and “wait and see” factor for overseas moviegoers will create a multiplier closer to Inception than Interstellar, and if word-of-mouth will prove better than the (comparatively) liked-but-not loved Interstellar. Tenet still has a handful of overseas territories (including Japan) between September 10 and September 24, along with Russia and America on Thursday and China on Friday, with American previews starting tonight.
If I’m more optimistic about Tenet versus New Mutants, it’s because of obvious factors like better reviews, a bigger number, a much bigger wanna-see variable. Presuming coronavirus containment doesn’t devolve, at least in the various overseas territories, and it doesn’t prove weirdly frontloaded, we may see at least a conventional global multiplier from a filmmaker whose previous movies have always been pretty leggy. If Tenet nabs around $30 million over its Thurs-Mon debut (counting previews) in America and even $45 million in China along with (offhand) $32 million in the territories opening later this month, even a $160 million “global opening” followed by a 3x multiplier gives the $200 million film a face-saving (and eventually break-even) $480 million global cume. Anything bigger than that and/or leggier than that, and we may see a finish between Dunkirk ($527 million) and Interstellar ($677 million in 2014).