Labor Day weekend is usually a quiet one when it comes to new movie releases. But this year, the long holiday weekend was the occasion of the debut of two new films whose performance may have major implications for the future of how motion pictures are distributed and exhibited.
“Tenet,” director Christopher Nolan‘s new thriller, was originally supposed to come out in July, while “Mulan,” Disney’s live-action remake of its animated hit from the 1990s, was set for release in March. Both releases, of movies that were expensive to produce, were delayed, but ended up being rescheduled for the same date, September 4.
The difference was, “Tenet“ was released in theaters by Warner Brothers, while “Mulan” was put out as a premium release via Disney+, costing $30 plus the cost of a Disney+ subscription. The release of “Tenet” was seen by many as a test of whether customers are ready to return to movie theaters, while “Mulan” likewise represents a test of whether moviegoers will pay premium prices to watch blockbuster films at home.
So, what’s the verdict?
Per Variety, “Tenet” made $20.2 million at the box office over Labor Day weekend, in addition to some preview screenings that had taken place earlier in the week. By normal blockbuster standards, that’s not a great number, but these are, needless to say, not normal times. Theaters remain closed in much of the country, including several major cities. Theaters that are open have limited the number of customers per showing. And there remains some apprehension, among moviegoers, about returning to indoor movie theaters while the coronavirus pandemic continues.
In the United States, “Tenet” opened on 2,800 screens, as somewhere between 65 and 70 percent of the nation’s multiplexes are now open.
The better news for “Tenet” is that has made nearly $150 million internationally. The film was released earlier in international markets, most of which have made greater progress in fighting the coronavirus than America has.
As for “Mulan,” the question of how it did is much more difficult to answer.
When it comes to premium video on demand releases, there isn’t really any independent, official measure of how many people rented or ordered a movie, and Disney has not made any announcement of any such figure. There’s a chance that such a figure will be leaked by the company in the coming days, or that Disney will say something about the movie’s performance on its next earnings call. But in the meantime, we don’t know whether the gambit of releasing “Mulan” for rental was a success or failure.
Stephen Silver, a technology writer for The National Interest, is a journalist, essayist and film critic, who is also a contributor to Philly Voice, Philadelphia Weekly, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Living Life Fearless, Backstage magazine, Broad Street Review and Splice Today. The co-founder of the Philadelphia Film Critics Circle, Stephen lives in suburban Philadelphia with his wife and two sons. Follow him on Twitter at @StephenSilver.