“F9” may not have been the planetary blockbuster anyone expected at Cannes, but amid the randy nuns, self-indulgent musicals and bovine documentaries, it was the planetary blockbuster we needed.
The latest instalment of the Fast and the Furious franchise enjoyed its French premiere on Monday (July 12) on the beach along the Croisette, two days before its release in local theaters. The film, which has so far grossed $141.8 million in the U.S., was unveiled in early June as the much-hyped tentpole teased by the festival, only to be instantly mocked by some who balked at Vin Diesel’s Dom Toretto putting the pedal to the metal in high-brow Cannes.
But come Monday evening, hundreds of people — the vast majority holidaymakers — lined up along the Croisette hoping to score a striped deckchair or sandy spot to watch the latest chapter in Universal’s 20-year-old franchise. Cannes’ July dates, as opposed to the usual May affair, meant many were at the film festival for the first time in their lives, and rather than struggle to navigate a finicky ticketing system for an auteur movie they might not even like, the familiarity of another Fast and the Furious movie promised an evening of guaranteed thrills.
Lisa Niric, a child carer originally from the Philippines, is in town with her employers, who attend the festival every year. She usually stays in Paris with the kids she looks after, but because it’s summer holidays, she came to Cannes for the first time. Niric comes out every evening to catch a movie on the towering, open-air screen, which is free to everyone, and has so far watched “Tom Medina,” “Black Cat, White Cat” and “Le Sommet des Dieux.”
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“We’re staying closeby [on the Croisette] but I don’t want to watch the movies from the terrace. The family asked me to watch with them, but I came here,” says Niric, who stood for two hours to watch “F9,” having arrived too late to nab a prime seat.
The 50-year-old, who has lived in Paris for 15 years, wasn’t expecting free events. “I hope it happens again in July so we can come back.”
Theories about the Cannes-bound behemoth exploded after festival director Thierry Fremaux told Variety he was booking a “planetary blockbuster that will please all festivalgoers,” with journalists suggesting the likes of everything from “Dune” (before its confirmation for Venice) and James Bond movie “No Time to Die” to “Black Widow.” Ultimately, “F9” came together between Cannes and Universal just one month ago.
“It’s a really big deal for us,” says Pauline Ramon, a human resources executive for NBCUniversal, who attended the beach screening. “We worked for many, many weeks on [this] event, and we’re really proud to show it tonight.”
The logistics, however, were another matter. Because the screen is open and easily accessible to anyone walking down the Croisette, piracy has been an ongoing concern.
“[We needed] many approvals from the U.S.,” explains a marketing project manager for Universal Pictures International, who had joined Ramon but wasn’t directly involved with the movie’s roll-out. “Because we’re broadcasting the movie on the beach, everyone can record it, so it’s a little bit difficult. But we can do it.”
There’s no real way to control piracy except for ensuring attendees aren’t recording, but as “F9” is coming out on Wednesday, the studio went ahead and took the gamble. After months of lockdown and shuttered cinemas, the marketing opportunity outweighs most drawbacks.
“We have a lot of movies coming out this summer and we’re trying to promote them as much as we can, but it’s a lot to take in. French cinemas have been open only for a few [months], so we have to try and promote all the movies coming out in a short amount of time,” notes Ramon.
On Monday, Universal delighted guests with a five-minute clip from 2022 blockbuster “Jurassic World: Dominion” ahead of “F9.” As a rogue Tyrannosaurus rex terrorized an unsuspecting town in a now-familiar scene across the franchise, a hush fell over the spellbound crowd. Those who were still in a massive queue for “F9” that snaked all the way to the children’s carousel by the Grand Palais, were content to wait in hopes that they’d make it in.
“We’ve seen all the others,” explains Thormod Westvik, a physician based in Oslo, Norway, who is in Cannes with his family to check on their summer home after 18 months. “It’s easy fun.”
“It’s interesting at a time like this, when everyone’s been isolating and all of a sudden there’s a crowd. It’s probably the first crowd we’ve seen for 18 months,” adds the 49-year-old. “I feel safe. I’m vaccinated and [my daughter Emma] is keeping her distance and staying with me.”
The festival is simply more accessible, explains 16-year-old Emma Westvik. “We normally can’t get here in time because of school and work.”
Looking hopefully at the entrance to the screening far in the distance, Westvik has high hopes for “F9.” “All of them have been good, so I don’t see why this one wouldn’t be,” she says.