Tenet Reportedly Needs to Gross $800M to Break Even

In case you were holding out hope that Tenet might find itself on video-on-demand services in lieu of a traditional box office release, you might want to forget about the notion as quickly as you can. After all, the Christopher Nolan thriller is going to need all the help it can get at the box office. One new report (via IndieWire) suggests the tentpole feature will need to gross at least $800 million at the box office before Warner Brothers makes a penny on the blockbuster.

Being touted as the movie that can save the entire theater industry, Tenet has been pushed back twice due to the various coronavirus-related delays. Now, one Hollywood insider says the movie will likely be pushed out of August entirely as COVID-19 cases continue to expand across the country.

With the large price tag the film carries, it’s a matter of when — not if — the movie will hit theaters. Thanks to the magic of Hollywood accounting, an $800M break-even point likely means the production budget of the movie costs in the neighborhood of $400M. The remaining $400M would then be earmarked by Warner Brothers for publicity and an ad spend — a cost that continues to go up the more times they have to print posters and billboards with new release dates.

The scary aspect of the monstrous number is the fact most movies that hit theaters would be considered a breakout success if they grossed anywhere near $800M. Even for a fabled filmmaker like Nolan, the number is an uphill battle to complete. In fact, most directors outside of the Marvel Cinematic Universe would struggle to reach the benchmark.

Dunkirk, the latest project from the direct, finished its box office run with a $535.5M haul. Prior to that, Nolan’s Interstellar came close to cresting the mark with a $752.8M box office total worldwide. He’s broken the number exactly three times with The Dark Knight ($1.272 billion), The Dark Knight Rises ($1.25B), and Inception ($953.2M).


Even if theaters opened decided to open in August after all, consumer confidence would likely be at an all-time low — especially when it comes to attending a movie theater. Therein lies a major reason why Warner will end up sitting on Tenet as long as it can, rather than rushing it to market.

Tenet is currently set for release on August 12th.

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