'F9' on Track to Top Last 'Fast' Film at US Box Office – But Soon Faces a Marvel-Size Obstacle

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Universal Pictures/Walt Disney Studios

‘F9’ on Track to Top Last ‘Fast’ Film at US Box Office – But Soon Faces a Marvel-Size Obstacle

Universal action film’s opening was $10 million higher than “Hobbes & Shaw” debut two years ago

“F9” has been a boon for theaters and the box office, scoring the highest opening weekend in over 18 months with a $70 million start in the U.S. And even with about 20% of domestic theaters still closed, “F9” is on track to match or exceed the box office of the “Fast & Furious” franchise’s 2019 spinoff “Hobbs & Shaw,” which opened to $60 million and wound up grossing $174 million domestically and $585 million overseas.

That would be a great outcome for Universal, which gambled by releasing the pricey action film at this still relatively early stage in the post-pandemic recovery period. Studio insiders told TheWrap that Universal is satisfied with its decision to move “F9” back a full year, and then again from Memorial Day weekend to June 25. The additional delay allowed time for more theaters to reopen and for pandemic capacity restrictions to be lifted. In fact, theaters in 44 states and nine of the top 10 North American markets — Toronto excluded — now allow theaters to operate at 100% capacity.

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“This weekend showed that people still value the theatrical experience, especially with a series like ‘Fast & Furious’,” Universal’s President of Domestic Distribution Jim Orr told TheWrap. “We knew that if we gave theaters time to reopen, fans would come out to see this film, because the stunts and the thrills that [director] Justin Lin and Vin Diesel and the cast have created were made for the biggest screen possible.

Even if “F9” finishes with a total in the $150-180 million range in the face of growing competition — particularly the Marvel behemoth known as “Black Widow” coming on July 9 — it would still be a win for both Universal and recovering theaters, especially since the film has already grossed $405 million worldwide. In fact, the film is set to be the first Hollywood title since 2019’s “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker” to cross the $500 million global mark.

Like its “F&F” predecessors, “F9” had a budget of well over $200 million before marketing costs, meaning that pandemic conditions will keep it from turning a substantial profit from ticket sales alone. While “F9” has been able to post a higher opening than “Hobbs & Shaw” in some key overseas markets like the U.K., Mexico and Australia, other European markets like France have only just reopened theaters while others, like Germany, remain closed. Both of those countries, along with Italy and Spain, are currently slated to get “F9” in mid-July, but it is unclear what moviegoing conditions will be like when that happens.

But with Hollywood studios pushing the theatrical window from 90 days to 45, Universal hopes to begin raking in post-theatrical revenue from digital rentals and purchases in August, not to mention the potential of gaining new subscribers for NBCUniversal’s fledgling streaming service Peacock. For many of this year’s blockbusters, which sport massive budgets and usually aim for $1 billion in global grosses, post-theatrical and ancillary revenue will become an even bigger factor in determining their overall success.

“F9” will enter the Fourth of July weekend as the hot new blockbuster, without any serious studio competition. And unlike offerings from Disney or Warner Bros., it will only be available in theaters with a 45-day exclusive window. It’s likely that next Sunday’s numbers will see a steep drop as most Americans head outside for grilling and fireworks, but that could be outweighed by strong holds on Friday and Saturday.

After that, “Black Widow” could peel off moviegoers eager to see the first Marvel movie in nearly two years. Even though Disney+ shows like “Loki” have provided hardcore fans with plenty of MCU material this year, it’s hard to bet against the biggest movie franchise in the world. While a $100 million-plus opening is considered unlikely given the current climate, there is a good chance that “Black Widow” could open even higher than “F9” domestically.

In pre-COVID days, Universal has been able to keep its “Fast & Furious” films several weeks apart from Marvel Studios blockbusters. 2017’s “The Fate of the Furious” was released three weeks ahead of “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2,” while 2015’s “Furious 7” got the same time gap ahead of “Avengers: Age of Ultron.”

But with the backlog of pandemic-delayed films making this summer’s slate very crowded, “F9” will only have two weeks before “Black Widow” arrives in theaters and on Disney+ (as a $30 premium title). The last time there was such a small gap was 2011, when “Thor” opened to $65 million just one week after “Fast Five” logged a $139.7 million opening.

History shows that on the weekend an MCU film opens, “Fast & Furious” takes a sharp drop. “Fast Five” fell 62% in its second weekend when “Thor” came out, as did “Furious 7” in its fifth weekend following the release of “Age of Ultron.”

With “Black Widow” increasing the chances of a sharp third-weekend drop, hitting the $200 million domestic mark will require very strong holds over the next two weeks from “F9” or for moviegoer support for two blockbusters to be much higher than expected.