It feels like every few weeks, the pandemic box office faces another big test. Godzilla vs. Kong proved that HBO Max’s strategy of releasing movies at home and in theaters at the same time could work. Demon Slayer showed that the box office could still produce a sleeper hit. Over Memorial Day, A Quiet Place Part II illustrated that moviegoers were still anxious to return to theaters.
This weekend, however, F9, the latest installment in the Fast & Furious franchise, was meant to show us what the ceiling for the post-pandemic box office might be. The much-anticipated, long-delayed F9 would show us how much might was left in the box office, and provide us with. a status update on the health of the moviegoing audiences.
The good news is: F9 easily broke the pandemic box-office record, racking up $70 million over the three-day weekend. Many are saying this is great news, and proof that the box office is returning to health. F9 did, after all, fare better than Hobbs and Shaw, the Fast and Furious spin-off, which recorded a $60 million opening weekend before the pandemic. That’s true, but it’s also $28 million less than the opening of The Fate of the Furious, the last F&F movie, which arrived in 2017.
Is the $70 million opening a reflection of Fast and Furious fatigue, or is this as much as we can expect a blockbuster to earn during opening weekend right now? After a year and a half without movies, have moviegoers readjusted to a new reality where they expect to be able to watch movies at home? Right now, it’s hard to imagine any other release this summer besting F9. Disney has two blockbusters coming in July — Black Widow and Jungle Cruise — but both will also be available for home viewers on Disney+. How much will that cannibalize their box office prospects? It’s certainly cut into the theatrical profits for Cruella and Raya and the Last Dragon, both of which are considered successes despite earning less than $75 million because of those premium access grosses. Some of the other big titles (Space Jam: A New Legacy, The Suicide Squad) will be available for free at home on HBO Max. The two biggest titles remaining this summer that won’t be accessible to home viewers on the day of their release are Snake Eyes, the G.I. Joe movie, and Ryan Reynolds’ Free Guy, but I don’t anticipate that either will beat the $70 million opening of F9.
In fact, we may need to wait until September before the next major test for the box office, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, although even that film is an unproven MCU title and it’s still unclear whether it will also release simultaneously on Disney+. In other words, the next complete test on the health of the box office may not come until the October release of the next Bond film, No Time to Die.
On the other hand, maybe the $70 million opening isn’t because of the pandemic but a function of F9 itself? After all, critics weren’t as enamored with this one (60 percent on Rotten Tomatoes), and the B+ Cinemascore is down from the A for The Fate and the Furiuous and the A- for Hobbs and Shaw. After nine films (and one spin-off movie), maybe moviegoers are simply getting tired of the franchise, or at least are more willing to wait to watch it at home. Ultimately, however, $70 million is hugely impressive for an eighth sequel.
The overall box office, meanwhile, also hit another pandemic record, earning $97+ million for the weekend, led by F9. A Quiet Place Part II continues to perform well, earning another $6.2 million in its fifth week. That number should continue to trickle downwards, however, with its release on Paramount+ arriving on July 12th thanks to the new shortened 45-day theatrical window. It’s earned $136 million, so far.
The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard had a fall in its second weekend, falling to number three at the box office. It earned $4.875 million to bring its total to $25.87 million. Peter Rabbit 2 is hanging in there at number four, earning $4.8.5 million to bring its total to $28.5 million after three weeks, which is around what the first one earned in its opening weekend alone. Disney’s Cruella, meanwhile, remains fairly consistent, earning another $3.7 million to bring its total to $71 million.
The upside for F9, however, is that it should have at least one more weekend at the top of the box office. There are three new wide openers over the 4th of July weekend, although I doubt any of the three — Lola, The Forever Purge and The Boss Baby: Family Business — will be a significant threat to the second-weekend totals for F9. Black Widow‘s release on July 8th, however, should knock F9 of its perch.