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Timing is everything. Take F9, which roared to a $70 million domestic debut over the June 25-27 weekend, the biggest opening of the pandemic era. The performance of the Fast and Furious installment recharged the box office battery and helped provide a collective sense of confidence for Hollywood’s bruised film studios as they prepare to once again release a steady supply of tentpoles.
Early in the pandemic, Universal pushed back F9 by a full year versus taking a chance on the latter half of 2020 as numerous other tentpoles did, only to move multiple times. As it turned out, many theaters didn’t begin reopening until late spring 2021, turning the theatrical release schedule into a chaotic board game of ever-moving pieces.
Now, there’s a growing sense that the remaining 2021 schedule is relatively safe, save for some small noodling and barring another disastrous wave of the virus (the Delta variant is becoming a concern for the unvaccinated). “We think we’ve really ignited the box office and set the industry on a great trajectory, not only for the rest of the summer but for the rest of the year,” notes Universal president of domestic distribution Jim Orr.
Paramount’s A Quiet Place Part II also has been major boost for the box office recovery since its Memorial Day debut. The modestly budgeted sequel has earned $136.4 million domestically — a pandemic-era best — and $249 million globally against a $55 million budget. Warner Bros. and Legendary’s March event offering Godzilla vs. Kong has amassed $442.6 million globally, including $100.2 million domestically, but had faced many more challenges than F9 because of capacity restrictions that have been lifted in most major markets (it also was part of Warners’ controversial day-and-date strategy that saw it released in theaters and on HBO Max).
Mask policies also have been relaxed, particularly for the fully vaccinated. Nearly 80 percent of North American cinemas are now reopened, a good sign ahead for delayed tentpoles like MGM’s James Bond pic No Time to Die (Oct. 8) and 20th Century’s Steven Spielberg-directed West Side Story musical (Dec. 10).
F9 and A Quiet Place Part II both received an exclusive theatrical release. “When you have two films doing this kind of business, it’s a very positive sign for theatrical,” says Chris Aronson, Paramount’s domestic distribution president.
Other studios are making taking a different route in making films available in the home and on the big screen simultaneously, a strategy which Warners has embraced for its entire 2021 slate, including Legendary’s Dune (Oct. 22). Disney is also making some of its event pics available at home for $30 via Disney+ Access Premier. That includes Marvel’s upcoming tentpole Black Widow (July 9).
MKM Partners analyst Eric Handler forecasts that the domestic box office will be 90 percent of normal in the fourth quarter. Adds Comscore analyst Paul Dergarabedian, “I don’t think we need to qualify how great the numbers are for F9. The film delivered another stinging blow to those who predicted the end of the movie theater experience. Patience was a virtue, and this theatrical release was well worth the wait.”
Upcoming summer tentpoles include Disney’s Jungle Cruise (July 30) and Warners’ Suicide Squad (Aug. 6), both of which will be open day and date in the home and on the big screen. This fall, Disney and Marvel’s Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (Sept. 3) will get an exclusive theatrical release; ditto for Marvel’s The Eternals (Nov. 5) and Paramount’s Top Gun: Maverick (Nov. 19). December tentpoles include Sony’s Spider-Man: No Way Home (Dec. 17) and Warners’ The Matrix 4 (Dec. 22).
A version of this story appeared in the June 30 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.
June 30, 8:45 a.m. A previous version of this story incorrectly characterized Dune‘s release plan. THR regrets the error.
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