The only thing stronger than family? The box office debut of “F9,” the latest entry in Universal’s “Fast & Furious” saga.
After many delays over the course of a year and a half, “F9” opened to a mighty $70 million from 4,179 North American venues. That’s by far the biggest start for a movie at the U.S. box office, not just since the onset of COVID-19, but since 2019’s “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker.”
The big-screen homage to hulking men, speedy cars, gravity-defying stunts and, of course, family is giving some much-needed momentum to the movie theater business, which has been struggling to rebound as audiences begin to feel comfortable returning to their local multiplex. “F9” is the latest blockbuster-hopeful to set a new box office benchmark for COVID times. Prior to this weekend, Paramount’s “A Quiet Place Part II” held the pandemic-era opening weekend record with $48.3 million in inaugural ticket sales.
“The bold decision we made to move ‘F9’ back a year was absolutely spot on,” says Jim Orr, Universal’s president of domestic distribution. “Our release has ignited the domestic box office and it’s setting the market for a great summer.”
Opening weekend crowds were 60% male, with 51% of ticket buyers under the age of 25. Broken down by demographics, 37% of moviegoers were Hispanic, 35% were Caucasian, 16% were Black and 8% were Asian. Orr adds, “the audience was very diverse, which reflects the strength of our cast and this franchise.”
Directed by “Fast” veteran Justin Lin and starring Vin Diesel, Michelle Rodriguez and John Cena, “F9” wasn’t expected to reach the opening weekend heights of its franchise predecessors. That’s because although 80% of U.S. venues have reopened, according to Comscore, attendance hasn’t returned to pre-COVID levels and the Canadian box office, which accounts for part of North American revenues, is still almost entirely shut down. In terms of “Fast” series launches, “F9” has a slight edge on the 2019 spinoff “Hobbs & Shaw,” which generated $60 million and ended its theatrical run with $173 million in the U.S. and $759 million globally. The previous film in the core series was 2017’s “The Fate of the Furious,” which opened to $98 million and ultimately grossed $226 million in North America and $1.2 billion worldwide. The 2015 entry “Furious 7” marked a franchise high, posting a huge $147.2 million in its first three days of release, on its way to $353 million at the domestic box office and $1.5 billion globally.
David A. Gross, who runs the movie consulting firm Franchise Entertainment Research, says the inaugural weekend of “F9” is “an excellent opening in an extraordinary series.”
“During the last month, moviegoing has shown flashes of real strength, including this weekend and ‘A Quiet Place 2,’ but it has also been tentative,” Gross says. “‘F9’ and ‘A Quiet Place 2’ are the cleanest reads of what the business can do now — both strong series and pure theatrical releases/no streaming.” Other current releases, he adds, have “muddled streaming options.”
Gross is referring to Disney’s “Cruella” and “Raya and the Last Dragon,” as well as recent Warner Bros. titles like “The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It” and “Godzilla vs. Kong.” Those movies have been chugging along on box office charts, but their grosses come with an asterisk because they’re also available on streaming platforms. Alternatively, options such as “A Quiet Place Part II” and “F9” have benefitted from the fact that moviegoers can only watch them in theaters. After 45 days on the big screen, “A Quiet Place Part II” will move to the fledgling streaming service Paramount Plus, while “F9” will be offered on premium video-on-demand platforms after a similar period of time.
Overseas, “F9” has been a force with international audiences as ticket sales surpass the $300 million mark. The movie added another $38 million from 45 foreign markets, boosting its tally to $335 million internationally and $405 million globally. Although COVID-era restrictions and consumer hesitations mean overall box office totals for “F9” will likely fall short of past “Fast” installments, the action adventure didn’t cost any less to produce — or market and promote on a global scale. That means the $200 million-budgeted film will have to sell plenty of online rentals, in addition to movie tickets, to get in the black.
Elsewhere at the domestic box office, “A Quiet Place Part II” remained in second place with $6.2 million over the weekend. After five weeks in theaters, the horror follow-up directed by John Krasinski and starring Emily Blunt has amassed $136 million in the U.S.
In third place, Lionsgate’s action comedy “The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard” pulled in $4.8 million in its sophomore outing, representing a 57% dip from the weekend prior. Starring Salma Hayek, Ryan Reynolds and Samuel L. Jackson, the sequel to 2017’s “The Hitman’s Bodyguard” has grossed $25.8 million to date.
Sony’s live-action/ CGI film “Peter Rabbit 2: The Runaway” came in fourth place with $4.8 million, boosting its three-week domestic haul to $28.85 million. The family friendly sequel has crossed $100 million in worldwide ticket sales, with $79 million of that haul coming from international revenues. Rounding out the top five is Disney’s “101 Dalmatians” prequel “Cruella,” which earned $3.7 million in its fifth frame. The Emma Stone-led origin story, which is currently available to Disney Plus subscribers for a $30 rental fee, has collected $71 million in the U.S. and $183 million globally.
Among indie releases, the Sony Pictures Classics R-rated drama “I Carry You With Me” ignited with $20,049 from four screens, translating to a solid $5,012 per location. The movie, which premiered at Sundance Film Festival, stars Armando Espitia, Christian Vázquez and Michelle Rodríguez and has generated overwhelmingly positive reviews.
Though “F9” is expected to pave the way for a robust summer movie season, including the release of Disney and Marvel’s “Black Widow” on July 9 and “The Suicide Squad” from Warner Bros. on Aug. 6, box office analysts don’t anticipate the movie business will rebound to full strength just yet.
“The industry is still settling,” says Franchise Re’s Gross. “You can’t shut down a $42 billion business for 15 months, rearrange the pieces and expect it to be back to full strength in a month or two. The effects of the pandemic will take time to heal. The new normal is coming — it’s not here yet.”