'Tenet' Takes No. 1 At The Box Office As The Lowest-Grossing Chart Topper In 32 Years

If a movie makes it to No. 1 at a box office during a pandemic, does it make a sound? Because the fate of the Autumn movie slate and struggling cinemas depend on the box office success of Tenet, it kind of does. But right now, it's just a quiet thump. Christopher Nolan's espionage film led a mild U.S. box office this past weekend, earning $3.4 million in its fourth weekend. That gives Tenet the unusual distinction of being the lowest-grossing chart topper in 32 years, since David Cronenberg's Dead Ringers topped with the box office with a $3 million opening weekend in 1988.

Tenet limped to a $41.2 million domestic total after raking in $3.4 million from 2,850 locations in its fourth weekend, dropping 28% from last week. The continued closure of key U.S. markets in Los Angeles and New York continue to weigh down the supposed savior of cinemas, which still managed to take No. 1 at a very meager box office.

As Forbes reports, Tenet this weekend earned the unusual distinction of being the lowest-grossing chart-topper in 32 years. In the September early October weekends of 1988, the Sigourney Weaver-led biopic Gorillas in the Mist took the No. 1 spot at only $3.451 million. A week before, David Cronenberg's Dead Ringers took the top spot with $3 million. Until this weekend, there had never been another weekend since 1982 where the top movies earned less than $4 million.

There was barely any competition for Tenet's No. 1 spot, as there were few new releases, with specialty offerings, rereleases, and holdovers making up the majority of the theatrical offerings. The 40th anniversary re-release of Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back took the spot behind Tenet, while 20th Century's The New Mutants ($1.1 million), Unhinged ($1 million), followed, with the K-pop BTS concert documentary Break the Silence: The Movie, opening to an estimated $960,000.

But while Tenet still lags domestically, it managed to earn $15.8 million overseas, bringing its global total to $283.2 million (and soon approaching the $300 million mark).

Forbes notes that Tenet is doing "halfway decently for a live-action original (or new-to-you sci-fi fantasy adaptation) directed by anyone other than Nolan." Thanks to its overseas ticket sales, the film has still managed to outgross or soon outgross the Wachowskis' Jupiter Ascending ($185 million in 2015), Brad Bird's Tomorrowland ($209 million in 2015), Luc Besson's Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets ($225 million in 2017), Denis Villeneuve's Blade Runner 2049 ($242 million in 2017), Gore Verbinski's The Lone Ranger ($261 million in 2013), Andrew Stanton's John Carter ($284 million in 2012), and Peter Berg's Battleship ($302 million in 2012).

Warner Bros. will be able to make back its $205 million budget for Tenet, but will the studio be able to take back its dignity after the Christopher Nolan tentpole was built up to be this great savior of cinemas? That's a question for another day, though with Warner Bros. moving Wonder Woman 1984 to Christmas and the delay of Universal's Candyman and Marvel's Black Widow to 2021 suggests that this question has already been answered.