In a Big Box-Office Test, ‘Tenet’ Grosses $20 Million

“Tenet” did not play drive-in theaters areas where indoor theaters remain closed, prompting some fans to fly out of state to see it. Warner withheld the film from certain drive-in cinemas to protect eventual ticket sales at indoor theaters in those markets. Concerns about piracy, keeping the plot under wraps and sound quality also played a role.

“Tenet” stars John David Washington (“BlacKkKlansman”), Robert Pattinson (“Twilight”) and Elizabeth Debecki (“The Night Manager”) in a highly complex, time-bending story that involves a race to prevent a catastrophic world event. The film, shot in seven countries using IMAX cameras, is rated PG-13 and runs two hours and 30 minutes. (In awkward timing, Pattinson tested positive for the coronavirus late last week while filming “The Batman,” another Warner Bros. movie.)

Reviews for the film have been strong, with critics enraptured with the visual splendor created by Mr. Nolan and his cinematographer, Hoyte Van Hoytema. But many critics also found the cerebral plot confusing. About 74 percent of appraisals were positive, according to Rotten Tomatoes. For context, reviews for “Dunkirk” were 92 percent positive.

IMAX said that “Tenet” provided $11.1 million in global ticket sales over the weekend — a new high-water mark for the chain for September, which is typically a sleepy month for visual spectacles. “It proves that there is a lot of pent-up demand,” Richard Gelfond, IMAX’s chief executive, said by phone on Sunday. “Where theaters are open and people feel safe, they want to go.”

Gelfond noted that “Dunkirk,” Nolan’s previous film, was a big performer for IMAX in North America in 2017. Out of the 10 best-performing IMAX locations for “Dunkirk,” however, only two (the Scotiabank theater complex in Toronto and Opry Mills in Nashville) were open to show “Tenet.”“Dunkirk,” a war drama that cost an estimated $100 million to make, arrived to $50.5 million in domestic ticket sales and ultimately collected $190 million.

Before “Tenet” arrived, Warner Bros. worked to tamp down opening-weekend expectations. Ann Sarnoff, who runs WarnerMedia’s studios and networks group, on Thursday gave interviews to a spate of news outlets, offering the same message to Variety, Deadline and The Los Angeles Times: While all of Mr. Nolan’s previous big-budget films have been instant blockbusters, financial success for this one will be “a marathon, not a sprint.”

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