Tenet reportedly needs to gross $800 million to break even. Director Christopher Nolan‘s latest tentpole was originally supposed to come out this week, but it’s already been pushed back twice due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. After initially being delayed to July 31, Tenet is now scheduled to come out on August 12. However, there’s no guarantee it will be able to meet that date, as positive COVID-19 cases spike across the country. The recent increase has affected states’ reopening plans, including major markets like New York and California.
With Warner Bros. committed to giving Tenet a proper theatrical release, the studio needs a majority of multiplexes up and running before moving forward with a premiere. It’s long been known Tenet was not a cheap movie to make; it’s reported production budget is $200 million before marketing costs are factored in. The figure illustrates Tenet needs to have a fruitful box office run in order to turn a profit, and now the target gross to break even has been revealed.
According to IndieWire, Tenet’s break even point is $800 million worldwide. That would be the amount of money it’d need to make in order to recoup production and marketing costs, meaning Tenet would have to gross substantially more than that in order to go down as a financial success.
What’s unusual about this is that typically, a movie has to earn twice its production budget in order to break even. Going by the general rule of thumb, Tenet would have to earn $400 million, which is what makes the reported $800 million number so eye-catching. It remains to be seen if that’s wholly accurate, but it’s worth keeping in mind nothing about Tenet’s proposed release is normal. It’s possible WB dedicated more money than expected to the marketing campaign (it wasn’t in full swing until late May, but since then, there’s been an uptick in TV spots) or delaying it multiple times has added to the costs. Odds are, people won’t have a clearer picture about Tenet’s financials until it’s closer to its debut – whenever that might be.
Whether Tenet’s break even point is $400 million, $800 million, or somewhere in between, this development highlights the unenviable position WB is in as they try to determine when they should release the movie. The symbolism of being one of the first major movies to usher audiences back to the theater in the aftermath of the pandemic sounds nice on paper, but WB also doesn’t want to lose a lot of money on what is a sizable investment. When theaters reopen, there will be limits on attendance and it’s also unknown how willing people will be to even go to the theater. That combination would make it very difficult for Tenet to make a profit.