One of 2021’s most anticipated theatrical releases, the long-delayed “F9” is poised for a big bow Friday.
Back in May, VIP+ speculated the ninth film in Universal’s blockbuster “Fast Saga” franchise would set a new pandemic opening record, earning above $50 million for its initial three-day gross in the U.S.
A month later, we feel even more confident of “F9’s” chances due to a number of prominent and changing factors.
America has opened back up.
While the U.S. is still struggling to hit vaccine targets as another new COVID variant worries health experts, most states are fully reopened, creating as idyllic a situation for film exhibitors looking to recoup their losses as there has been in more than a year.
Housing the two biggest domestic box office markets, California and New York are among the most recent states to lift capacity limits for indoor venues as of June 15, making “F9” the first tentpole release to hit the new-and-improved exhibition market.
With each new box office record in the U.S. and Canada, successive weekends have managed to stay relatively higher than those preceding each record bump, so the June 25 weekend is more than guaranteed to set a new floor of consistently elevated grosses for the summer.
Franchise familiarity matters more than ever as competition returns.
Another factor that will work in favor of “F9” is that its domestic cinema count is approximately 4,000 — making it the most widely distributed film yet in the COVID era.
The number of venues in which a film plays isn’t enough, though. Disney’s live-action “Cruella,” an origin story for the “101 Dalmatians” villain, played in slightly more theaters than the sequel to monster-horror film “A Quiet Place,” but the latter fared much better.
Unlike “Cruella,” “A Quiet Place Part II” wasn’t just exclusive to theaters, it was also the follow-up to a box office hit from 2018, granting it more relevance among modern filmgoers vs. a Disney franchise that hasn’t been seen in cinemas since the turn of the century.
Then there’s “In the Heights.” An adaptation of the Lin-Manuel Miranda play, it received a bigger release than any other film from Warner Bros. that's hit theaters and HBO Max simultaneously, but it was still outgrossed by five such films — all of which were tied to existing franchises.
Likewise, while “In the Heights” received critical acclaim, it didn’t count big stars among its lead cast — something “F9” won’t struggle with thanks to leading man Vin Diesel and new addition John Cena.
Now that the calendar is crowded again, the right release date is key.
In early March, Universal saw fit to delay “F9” another month, moving it from May 28 to its current June 25 slot, likely on account of the performance of “Tom and Jerry” indicating the box office was slowly but surely regaining health.
Fast-forward to now, and the move to the last weekend of June was clearly a good call.
It may belong to a larger franchise than “A Quiet Place,” but “F9” may have not grossed nearly as high as it’s expected to this weekend had it released earlier in June, as “A Quiet Place” has continued to take substantial chunks of each weekend since its release, making it more difficult for new films to shine.
Likewise, releasing “F9” over the upcoming Fourth of July weekend would have put the film closer to Disney’s “Black Widow” (July 9) and made it share a weekend with two wide releases from Universal (sequels to the “Purge” and “Boss Baby” franchises).
Films released over the spring benefited from what was then a barren film calendar, but summer weekends are fairly stocked now, so a perfect release for “F9” is one that must account for what’s still nabbing gross and what’s to come. With no other wide releases playing, June 25 is such a date for “F9” to rev its engines and set a summer standard for the pandemic box office.