By Rebecca Rubin
LOS ANGELES – 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 since the onset of COVID-19.
The big-screen homage to hulking men, speedy cars and gravity-defying stunts 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 with $48.3 million in inaugural ticket sales.
“F9” wasn’t expected to reach the opening weekend heights of its franchise predecessors because 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.”
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 “F9’s” overall box office totals 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.