(Bloomberg) — Fewer U.S. fans turned out in North American cinemas this weekend, with no big new movies opening, further complicating theaters’ efforts to recover from a five-month shutdown because of COVID-19.
“Tenet” remained the No. 1 movie in the U.S. and Canadian theaters, researcher Comscore Inc. said Sunday, even as ticket sales of $4.7 million slumped 26% from the previous week. The sci-fi thriller from AT&T Inc.’s Warner Bros. made the most sales from China, where it grossed $5.6 million this weekend.
Meanwhile, Walt Disney Co.’s “Mulan” made only $6.5 million in its second weekend in mainland China, a big dropoff from its already lackluster $23.2 million opening weekend sales. The movie debuted in Hong Kong, where it has faced boycott, and Disney didn’t provide a sales number for the opening there.
While some of the North American shortfall is due to the continued closings of theaters in New York City and Los Angeles, the two largest markets, it also indicates audiences are wary of returning to theaters. Against that backdrop, studios have delayed their biggest releases, including most recently Warner Bros.’ decision to hold “Wonder Woman 1984” until Christmas Day.
Los Angeles County health officials said this week it’s possible business restrictions may ease next month if COVID-19 trends continue to improve. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said his state would hold off on any plans to let theaters reopen until the virus is under control.
About 3,500, or 58%, of North America’s 6,000 theaters are open, Comscore said.
The numbers add to an already difficult time for cinema chains. AMC Entertainment Holdings Inc., the largest theater operator in the world, borrowed heavily to survive being closed for much of 2020. Representatives of the National Association of Theatre Owners said at a Goldman Sachs Group Inc. conference on Sept. 17 that the industry is still struggling to make people aware cinemas are open, partly because there are so few new releases.
“As more movies come out, more people are seeing the safety precautions that theaters are taking and they’re telling their friends who haven’t gone to the movies yet, and it builds from there,” said Phil Contrino, the group’s director of media and research. “And that’s incredibly crucial at this stage.”
Warner Bros. tried to buck the odds with the Sept. 3 theatrical release of “Tenet,” a $200 million production. But its path to financial success looks tenuous. The movie has taken in a total of $250 million worldwide, a sum the studio splits with theater owners, and Warner Bros. has also spent tens of millions of dollars marketing the picture.
The next big U.S. movie release isn’t scheduled until Nov. 6, when Disney’s Marvel installment “Black Widow” is scheduled to premiere. It’s not clear whether that will go forward, and theater operators have repeatedly said they’re remaining flexible as the pandemic continues. The studio has experimented with new ways to get its films in front of audiences, releasing “Mulan” to Disney+ subscribers for $30. It didn’t provide data on how many customers bought the movie.
In Japan, the opening of “Tenet” made $1.15 million from 38 IMAX screens, the biggest ever for Warner Bros. and a Christopher Nolan film, despite theater capacity is restricted at 50%. Those IMAX screens accounted for 27% of the film’s gross in Japan.
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