‘F9’ Brings The Blockbuster Back
This is the weekend Hollywood has been waiting for. F9: The Fast Saga finally opens in the U.S. after over a year of delays, and it is the first major blockbuster release of the summer. It’s been a rocky summer movie season, with one bonafide hit (A Quiet Place Part II), a string of disappointments (Peter Rabbit 2, In The Heights, Spiral), and films that came somewhere in between (The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It, Cruella). It is hard to know exactly where the industry stands and how to diagnose the lackluster grosses of many films. On one hand, there is still some segment of the audience that is reluctant to go back to the movies, and VOD availability for many films could be diminishing the turnout. On the other hand, maybe many of the films released so far have just not been the right films to draw the audience back. F9 might just be the movie to change that for many, and it feels like a test for the industry, letting us know how “back to normal” we really are.

The latest installment of the Fast & Furious franchise was slated to hit theaters on Memorial Day weekend 2020 before the Covid-19 pandemic caused it to be pushed back. Its release is expected to break many pandemic-era records, and with over 4000 theaters, it is already the widest release since March 2020. It also happens to be the only big-budget, live-action film since then not to be released by Warner Bros.

The film marks the return of director Justin Lin who reinvented the franchise as the helmer of the third, fourth, fifth, and sixth films. Under his direction, the series went from solid hits focused on local street racing and crime syndicates to mega-blockbuster, globe-trotting heist adventures that are international in their scope and audience. With an ever-expanding cast of superstars, extravagant vehicular stunts, and worldwide grosses crossing the $1 billion threshold, it has become the fifth highest grossing franchise of all time, amassing over $6.2 billion globally.

Expectations for the opening weekend are high but tempered. Universal is predicting around $60 million, which would put it in the ballpark of early 2020 hits Bad Boys for Life and Sonic the Hedgehog. The closest any film during the pandemic has come to that is A Quiet Place Part 2, which opened to $47.5 million, with $57.1 million over the four-day Memorial Day weekend. A $60 million opening weekend would put it on par with the spinoff Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw, which opened to that exact number in the first weekend of August 2019. F9’s pre-release IMDb page views are closer to Hobbs & Shaw than the previous Fast & Furious films from the past decade, but it is also well ahead of any film this summer.

$60 million seems very reasonable to expect, but it also suggests that it will take more time for the box office to fully recover. It would make F9 the lowest opening of the main franchise entries since Tokyo Drift in 2006. Fast 6 and The Fate of the Furious both opened to nearly $100 million, and Furious 7, the final film of Paul Walker, opened to $147.2 million. The reviews of F9 (63% on RottenTomatoes) are not far behind the previous film, The Fate of the Furious or the spinoff Hobbs & Shaw (both are at 67%). However, it continues the series’ slide in the eyes of critics from the earlier, better reviewed films, peaking with Furious 7 (82%).

F9 also opens this weekend in the U.K., Ireland, Mexico, and Brazil. Around three-quarters of the film’s $292.5 million international cume has come from China ($216.8 million), and its other top territories thus far are South Korea ($19.5 million) and Russia ($17.5 million). Its release footprint outside of Asia and the Middle East has been limited, though. The film will continue its international rollout over the next few months, releasing in key European territories such as Germany, France, and Spain in July, with Italy as well as Japan following in August.

With no other wide releases opening, the rest of the top 10 should look close to last week’s, possibly with the inclusion of one of the new limited releases.

Sony Pictures Classics is releasing I Carry You With Me, which premiered at Sundance in 2020. It is the first narrative feature from director Heidi Ewing, known for documentaries such as Jesus Camp.

Searchlight’s Summer of Soul is the directorial debut of Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson. The music documentary premiered at Sundance this year and will debut on Hulu on July 2.

Werewolves Within, based on the video game of the same name, is releasing via IFC. It stars Sam Richardson and Milana Vayntrub.

Lansky from Vertical stars Harvey Keitel and Sam Worthington. It tells the true story of the “Mob’s Accountant” Meyer Lansky.