The Fast and Furious series is known for its unrepentant flaunting of physical science, and now it’s waging a war against common wisdom as well.
The MCU-style movieverse of cars and high-speed heists saw its 10th chapter, F9, hit theaters on May 19 in a small-but-mighty lineup of international markets that includes China, Korea, and Russia. People flocked to see the long-delayed latest entry in the globally adored series, rocketing F9 to a massive $164.4 million opening weekend.
That huge opening was enough to set a franchise milestone, bringing the total box office take across the entire series up past $6 billion, according to Comscore. The company’s weekend report also noted that the series is now one of only six in total to have hit $6 billion, and with the fewest number of movies.
(F9 is the 10th movie but only the ninth main installment. The odd release out is the 2019 spinoff, Fast and Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw.)
None of the other movies that are out in theaters right now came close to touching F9’s global performance. The Chinese production Love Will Tear Us Apart came in at number two, with the new release logging a $14.9 million weekend.
F9’s box office explosion is the latest sign that the theater business is bouncing back after a brutal year-plus of the pandemic shut down most public gathering places across the world. No one’s making the case that the pandemic is fully over, but as parts of the world gain a foothold over COVID-19 thanks to widespread vaccine distribution, businesses are starting to invite people to visit once again.
The Fast and Furious franchise in particular is one of Hollywood’s bigger exports, so it’s no surprise that people outside the U.S. were excited to see it. But this early example of a spring/summer blockbuster landing with a splash bodes well for the months ahead, which are traditionally stacked with “tentpole” blockbusters.
Attention will turn next to In the Heights, the big screen adaptation of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s pre-Hamilton Broadway hit. That one arrives in North American theaters, plus a few other, select markets, on June 11. Its broad-based appeal as a family-friendly musical will be a good test of how ready U.S. theatergoers are for a return to the movies.
While that one is really the formal kickoff for the summer moviegoing season in the U.S., there’s also the domestic release for F9 that’s still to come, on June 25. The summer after that is marked by major releases, including Marvel’s Black Widow, Warner’s Space Jam sequel and Suicide Squad reboot, and Disney’s Jungle Cruise, among others.
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Some of the summer’s biggest blockbusters will likely see depressed turnout due to Warner Bros. plan for day-and-date theatrical and streaming releases for its 2021 slate, as well as Disney’s for-pay Premium Access unlocks. In fact, every one of the movies mentioned above except for F9 will all be available to stream as they hit theaters.
That’s what makes F9’s box office especially notable. Universal Pictures is the distributor for that one, and the studio has stuck to a plan of keeping theatrical releases limited to theaters only. So this monster opening weekend makes a strong case that Universal chose well. Disney and Warner have plenty to gain of course, with streaming releases no doubt bringing in new subscribers for their relatively young Netflix and Hulu competitors, Disney+ and HBO Max, respectively.
Nonetheless, it seems like a growing number of moviegoers are ready to sit down in the dark and be entertained in a crowd again.