American horror story: how the US lost its grip on pop culture

Trump, Covid and streaming have weakened the country’s cultural dominance – and artists around the world are filling the gap

The weekend before last was something of a post-coronavirus reawakening for cinema. The release of Tenet at last gave mass audiences a new Hollywood blockbuster to queue up for, albeit in a masked, socially distanced, hand-sanitised way. Its healthy $53m opening weekend was as much cause for celebration as the movie world has been able to muster in 2020, but conspicuously absent from the party was Hollywood itself.

Tenet opened in 41 countries but the United States was not one of them. Owing to the country’s shoddy handling of the pandemic, cinemas remain closed in most regions, including the key markets of California and New York. So much for “America first”. Another development compounded the US’s humbling: Tenet was not actually the highest-grossing movie in the world that weekend; that was The Eight Hundred, a lavish, patriotic Chinese war movie. In contrast to the US, most of China’s 70,000 movie screens are back open, which helped The Eight Hundred chalk up $69m. Rarely has the world’s cultural superpower looked weaker.

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