'Tenet' and 'New Mutants' aren't enough to get US audience back to movie theaters

US box office continues to struggle despite new blockbusters hitting theaters

Despite more than three-quarters of the country's movie theaters opening back up amid the COVID-19 pandemic, U.S. audiences are not flocking back to the theater the way some would hope.

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Despite the days of wondering when, or if, new movies will hit the theaters being behind us, it seems many studios' worst fears of their movies not being enough of a draw to make people risk going to the theater are becoming a reality.

The biggest movies continue to limp along. According to studio estimates Sunday, Warner Bros.’ “Tenet” earned $4.7 million in its third weekend from nearly 2,930 locations, Disney’s “The New Mutants” added $1.6 million in its fourth weekend, “Unhinged” brought in $1.3 million and Sony’s rom-com “The Broken Hearts Gallery” picked up an additional $800,000 in its second frame.

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And newcomers aren’t faring any better. The faith-based “Infidel,” which stars Jim Caviezel, did the best with $1.5 million from just over 1,700 theaters.

This weekend also saw the limited release of two adult dramas, IFC’s “The Nest,” with Jude Law and Carrie Coon, and Bleecker Street’s “The Secrets We Keep,” with Noomi Rapace. Both played in under 500 theaters across the country and neither got much more than $200 per location. “The Nest” earned an estimated $62,000 from 301 locations and “The Secrets We Keep” brought in just under $90,000 from 471 theaters.

Elizabeth Debicki (L) and John David Washington (R) in a scene from "Tenet." (Associated Press)

“There’s no question that this is an extraordinarily challenging marketplace, especially for North America,” said Paul Dergarabedian, Comscore’s senior media analyst. “This is a slow roll out. It's going to take some time.”

However, time may not be on the side of theaters as the pandemic continues to spread across the country and studios more and more mull over the idea of releasing new titles on video-on-demand. Although "Trolls World Tour" got the ball rolling with a VOD release early on in the pandemic, all eyes are on Disney's "Mulan," which dropped on its Disney+ streaming platform in September after finally foregoing its theatrical release.

The nation’s biggest chains have been open for about a month after nearly six months of being closed due to the pandemic and a lack of new releases. But since reopening with enhanced safety measures and the promise of new blockbusters, they haven’t gotten the infusion of business they were hoping for. However, a caveat to that is the fact that indoor theaters are still not open in two of the country's biggest markets, New York and Los Angeles.

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The North American earnings have not been promising for studios with theatrical releases on the horizon either. Christopher Nolan's “Tenet” has only earned $36.1 million from North American theaters to date. The performance has led some studios to push back releases even further and some wonder whether more will follow. The next major release on the calendar is Disney and Marvel’s “Black Widow” on Nov. 6.

“It’s natural that we’re going to see release date changes for many movies,” Dergarabedian said. “It's a very unpredictable marketplace."

Globally, “Tenet” has also managed to cross a major milestone this weekend: The $250 million mark.

Disney shows Yifei Liu in the title role of "Mulan." (Disney Enterprises, Inc. via AP)

Still, just because theaters are doing more business internationally does not mean a new movie will be a surefire hit, as Disney's live-action “Mulan” has proven in China.

After a disappointing debut in China last week, “Mulan” dropped 72% in its second weekend where local audiences have criticized it for being “ inauthentic.” The film added $6.5 million in China and $10.9 million total, bringing its international total to $57 million. The $200 million production was supposed to be a massive global theatrical release back in March and The Walt Disney Co. revised plans a number of times before settling on a hybrid release. “Mulan” is currently available for a $29.99 rental for Disney+ subscribers and playing in theaters where the streaming service is not available.

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But the industry is also just getting its footing in this new COVID-era marketplace. The box office tracker Comscore was able to release a domestic top 10 chart for the first time in six months.

“Just having a full top 10 chart is a real win for the industry,” Dergarabedian said. “The question is how many big movies are coming out in the next few weeks and months and will the marketplace be able to sustain itself? That remains to be seen.”

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Estimated ticket sales for Friday through Sunday at U.S. and Canadian theaters, according to Comscore. Final domestic figures will be released Monday.

1. “Tenet," $4.7 million.

2. "The New Mutants,” $1.6 million.

3. “Infidel,” $1.5 million.

4. “Unhinged,” $1.3 million.

5. “The Broken Hearts Gallery,” $800,000.

6. “After We Collided,” $304,986.

7. “Spongebob Movie: Sponge on the Run," $210,000.

8. “Alone,” $190,000.

9. “Bill & Ted Face the Music,” $187,761.

10. “The Personal History of David Copperfield,” $150,000.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.