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Waiting to rev up the engines was worth it for F9.
When the COVID-19 crisis struck in the U.S., Universal decided to push back the ninth installment in the Fast and Furious franchise by a full year, versus taking a chance on the latter half of 2020 as other tentpoles did (unsuccessfully). As it turned out, many theaters didn’t begin reopening until late spring 2021.
Over the weekend, F9 sped to a record $70 million in its North American start, the biggest showing of the pandemic era and the biggest since Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker in December 2019. The tentpole’s performance is a major victory for Hollywood and theaters following A Quiet Place Part II.
F9 easily surpassed the $60 million domestic launch of 2019 spinoff Hobbs & Shaw, unadjusted for inflation, but couldn’t match the $98.8 million start of The Fate of the Furious in 2017, underscoring that the fragile nature of the box office recovery.
Overseas, where the Justin Lin-directed movie opened several weeks ago, F9 has earned $335 million for a global total of $405 million through Sunday. The movie — costing at least $225 million to produce — should have no trouble clearing $600 million or more, considering it has many major markets in which to open and has only just begun its U.S. run.
Here’s how F9 succeeded in its domestic debut:
Franchise fatigue can easily set in after three or four installments, but nine movies and one spin-off later, the Fast films continue to boast a strong fan base. And, mirroring an ethnically diverse cast, fans are likewise diverse.
Latino consumers made up 37 percent of F9‘s opening weekend ticket buyers, followed by Caucasian (35 percent), Black (16 percent), Asian (8 percent) and Native American/Other (4 percent), according to exit poll service PostTrak.
“Fans consider themselves to be family,” says Universal president of domestic distribution Jim Orr.
While reviews were lukewarm, audiences gave F9 a B+ Cinemascore.
Universal stuck to an exclusive theatrical release, versus making F9 simultaneously available in the home and on the big screen — a controversial practice some studios have adopted during the pandemic.
Because of the ongoing impact of COVID-19, Warner Bros. decided to open its entire 2021 slate day and date in cinemas and on HBO Max. No one knows exactly how much this impacts box office, since parent company WarnerMedia doesn’t reveal streamer viewership numbers. Disney is also making some of its event pics available in the home for $30 via Disney+ Access Premier. That includes the upcoming Marvel tentpole Black Widow (July 9).
Paramount’s horror-thriller A Quiet Place Part II is another big win for proponents of an exclusive theatrical release. The modestly budgeted sequel has earned $136.4 million domestically — a pandemic-era best — and $249 million globally against a $55 million budget.
Right Time, Right Place
Capacity restrictions were lifted in time for F9 in many major markets, including Los Angeles and New York, the country’s top two markets in terms of box office revenue. Mask requirements have also eased dramatically, with all of the major circuits saying vaccinated customers don’t need a face covering at all.
To boot, roughly 80 percent of theaters in North America are now reopened, or 4,647 locations, according to Comscore. Many of those still closed are in Canada, including Toronto.
Moviegoer Comfort Level
Leading research firm National Research Group has been polling moviegoers since the pandemic began. Those who feel comfortable returning to theaters has increased dramatically in recent weeks, and now stands at 77 percent to 78 percent, versus less than 50 percent throughout much of the past year.
Imax locations and premium large format venues saw brisk sales, which mean more money for all involved because of a ticket upcharge. Imax alone delivered $5.5 million from 378 screens the U.S. and Canada, or 7.8 percent of F9‘s total domestic debut.
That’s a pandemic-era best for Imax. AMC Theatres, the country’s largest exhibitor, also recorded record traffic since reopening its locations. More than 2 million people came came through its doors in total, with many seeking out premium formats, whether Imax, Dolby Cinema and Prime.
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