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Tenet leads US box office again, while Mulan sales drop in China

Los Angeles

FEWER movie-goers turned out in North American cinemas over the weekend, with no big new shows opening, further complicating theatres' efforts to recover from a five-month shutdown because of Covid-19.

Tenet remained the No 1 movie in US and Canadian theatres, researcher Comscore said on Sunday, even as ticket sales of US$4.7 million slumped 26 per cent from the previous week. The sci-fi thriller from AT&T's Warner Bros made the most sales from China, where it grossed US$5.6 million last weekend.

Meanwhile, Walt Disney's Mulan made only US$6.5 million in its second weekend in mainland China, a big dropoff from its already lacklustre US$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 theatres in New York City and Los Angeles, the two largest markets, it also indicates audiences are wary of returning to theatres.

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Biggest releases delayed

Against that backdrop, studios have delayed their biggest releases, including most recently Warner Bros' decision to hold Wonder Woman 1984 until Christmas Day.

About 3,500, or 58 per cent, of North America's 6,000 theatres are open, Comscore said. The numbers add to an already difficult time for cinema chains. AMC Entertainment Holdings, the largest cinema 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 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 theatres are taking and they are 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. "That is incredibly crucial at this stage."

Warner Bros tried to buck the odds with the Sept 3 theatrical release of Tenet, a US$200 million production. But its path to financial success looks tenuous. The movie has taken in a total of US$250 million worldwide, a sum the studio splits with theatre owners, and Warner Bros has also spent tens of millions of dollars marketing the picture.

The next big US movie release isn't scheduled until Nov 6, when Disney's Marvel instalment of Black Widow is scheduled to premiere. It is not clear whether that will go forward, and theatre operators have repeatedly said they are 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 US$30. It did not provide data on how many customers bought the movie.

In Japan, the opening of Tenet made US$1.15 million from 38 IMAX screens, the biggest ever for Warner Bros and a Christopher Nolan film, despite theatre capacity restricted to 50 per cent. Those IMAX screens accounted for 27 per cent of the film's gross in Japan. BLOOMBERG

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