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September 23, 2021
The US box office just had a horrible year. 2021 may not be much better

Fast and Furious 9’s greatest stunt: Saving movie theaters

But “F9” — the latest installment in Universal’s high-octane blockbuster franchise — may have to pull off the brand’s boldest stunt yet: saving the movie theater industry.
On Wednesday, Universal released the newest trailer for the film, which will finally hit theaters on June 25 after multiple delays. Away from the series’ signature action, the trailer is an in-your-face, save-the-date reminder to the franchise’s fan base and an industry that really needs some box office hits.
And as you have probably guessed after watching the trailer, the Fast & Furious franchise is, uh, not subtle. There’s a lot of action, a lot of high speed chases, and a lot of “oh my God, did they actually just do that?” — all big pluses for theaters as they enter their historically lucrative summer season.
Movie theaters are crawling out from under a year that completely ravaged their business as the Covid pandemic shut down mass entertainment. In order to return to something even approaching normal they need audiences to get off their couches and into theater seats — and the films that cry out to be seen on the largest screen possible are the best way to accomplish that.

Big blockbuster movies have always been important, but they are even more essential now as more studios choose to release films in theaters and on streaming services simultaneously or, more ominously for the business, bypass theaters altogether.

Enter “F9.”

Since there are few potential blockbusters scheduled for release between now and June 25 (all due respect to “Cruella” and “A Quiet Place Part II”), the “F9” opening weekend box office returns will be watched very closely — a potential bellwether for the sustainability of movie theaters in a post-pandemic world.

It will also paint a picture on how the marketplace is reacting globally, since Fast & Furious is a distinctly global brand.

The series has made nearly $6 billion at the worldwide box office since the first film, 2001’s “The Fast and the Furious,” according to Comscore (SCOR), and the sequels have morphed from tales about Los Angeles street racing to international espionage — a transformation that has exponentially expanded its global footprint.

For example, 2017’s “The Fate of the Furious” brought in $1.2 billion worldwide — more than 80% from overseas ticket sales.

One of the biggest markets for the series is China, which has become the top movie market in the world. If “F9” hits there, as well as in the US, that, alongside vaccinations ramping up, could give studios the confidence to release more films in theaters again.
It could also give audiences more incentive to return to the cineplex after being away for so long. After all, nothing builds buzz like a hit. And that would also be good news for Disney (DIS) whose Marvel’s “Black Widow” opens in theaters and on Disney+ just two weeks later on July 9.

Conversely, if “F9” misses the mark at the box office it could present a stark picture for theaters going forward. After all, if big, crowd-pleasing, global films can’t fill seats — during the summer, of all seasons — what can?

Ultimately, there’s a lot of time between Wednesday’s trailer and the film’s June 25 release, and “F9” is not the only big film opening this year. Yet, Hollywood and theater owners will be keeping a watchful eye as the premiere approaches.

Theaters already have some evidence that audiences want to come back to the movies — for blockbusters, at least.

Warner Bros.’ “Godzilla vs. Kong,” which premiered in theaters and HBO Max last month, is the biggest hit of the pandemic. The film, in which the two iconic movie monsters square off, has made more than $360 million worldwide thanks to solid openings in both the US and China. (Warner Bros., like CNN, is owned by WarnerMedia.)

So if a radioactive lizard fighting a giant ape can lure crowds to the movies in March, then surely Vin Diesel running through an exploding truck as it falls off a cliff can do the same in June.