Universal Pictures is pumping the brakes on the latest “Fast and Furious” entry.
“F9,” which was slated to debut over Memorial Day weekend, has pushed back its release date once again. But fear not, adrenaline junkies: the high-octane sequel hasn’t spun too far out; it’s still expected to open this summer on June 25.
Universal also announced that “Minions: The Rise of Gru,” the fifth installment in the “Despicable Me” franchise, has been postponed an entire year. The animated family film was set to open on July 2, 2021, and will now release theatrically on July 1, 2022.
The delays may seem surprising, considering the Biden administration recently announced the U.S. is on track to have enough COVID-19 vaccine doses for “every adult American” by the end of May. At the same time, theaters in New York City, one of the biggest movie markets in the country, have been approved to reopen at limited capacity.
Yet there are still significant limitations facing the movie industry, which has been battered by the pandemic. “F9” carries a price tag around $200 million and requires massive ticket sales globally to ensure it turns a profit.
On Wednesday, Sony Pictures, encouraged by turnout for “Tom and Jerry” and “The Croods: A New Age,” moved up the release of “Peter Rabbit 2” from mid-June to May 14. The “Peter Rabbit” sequel cost significantly less to produce compared to a mega-budgeted tentpole like “F9,” making it less of a financial risk.
Universal had been weighing several release date options for “F9,” including the holiday season or next year. However, the studio opted to only incrementally delay the film, given the positive developments around the vaccine and the hope that Los Angeles movie theaters will soon reopen. Though U.S. ticket sales have been meager at best, Hollywood has been encouraged by the Chinese box office, which has already fielded several blockbusters in the past few months.
The latest delay for “F9” means it will premiere more than 12 months after originally intended. The movie was initially scheduled for last summer, but Universal bumped back the release date — first to April 2, 2021 and then to May 28 — due to the ongoing health crisis.
Earlier in the pandemic, Universal forged an agreement with movie theater chains such as AMC and Cinemark, which gave the studio the option to release its movies on-demand within 17 days of their theatrical release. Films that generate at least $50 million in opening weekend ticket sales will have to play exclusively in theaters for 31 days, or five full weekends.
Given the still-impaired marketplace, it’s unclear if one movie can even gross $50 million in a single weekend. The biggest debuts of the coronavirus era have been “Wonder Woman 1984” ($16.7 million) and “Tom and Jerry” ($14.1 million). But even if “F9” is somehow able to hit the $50 million benchmark, it’s likely that Universal will keep the movie in theaters for a longer period of time.
After “Raya and the Last Dragon” premieres in theaters (and on Disney Plus) on Friday, the Marvel superhero adventure “Black Widow” (May 7) will be the next major film scheduled to release in theaters. Several others — including Ryan Reynolds’ sci-fi adventure “Free Guy” (May 21), Paramount’s “Infinite” starring Mark Wahlberg (May 28), Sony’s “Venom” sequel (June 25) and “Top Gun: Maverick” (July 2) — remain on the calendar as well.