F9 Box Office: The Best Opening Since Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker

Welcome to our weekly box office report, which we do a little differently. Rather than focusing on the money, FSR senior editor Christopher Campbell is more interested in the estimated attendance — or number of tickets sold. Because the value of money changes over the years, but the value of actual moviegoers remains the same. This week, we look at the opening box office attendance numbers for F9: The Fast Saga and Werewolves Within.

When the COVID-19 pandemic began shutting things down in March 2020, F9: The Fast Saga was one of the first movies to have its release date delayed. It was also the first summer movie affected — a couple of months out from its intended opening in late May — and the first title to shift by almost a whole year, anticipating that its audience would best be served with a thought-out date (April is typically a good month for a Fast & Furious movie). Universal was willing to wait for a time when the fans were ready rather than hope the demand was high enough that the crowds would follow whenever the studio was ready to put it out.

The Fast & Furious sequel finally released in theaters after a further delay last Friday, and while moviegoing still isn’t quite up to its normal numbers overall yet, the timing seems to have been as good as it could be, all things considered. Would F9 have had bigger box office numbers in a year without a pandemic’s residual circumstances having an impact? Probably, but who knows by how much? As it is, the action blockbuster at least managed to slightly exceed expectations (per Box Office Pro’s forecast) and attract the largest opening weekend attendance of not just the year, and not just since the pandemic began, but since 2019.

With an estimated* three-day box office gross of $70 million (including Thursday night previews as part of Friday’s data), the number of people who went to see F9 in its debut amounts to around 7.6 million. That tops previous 2021 record holder A Quiet Place Part II, which drew 5.2 million one month ago. The only pre-pandemic movie of 2020 to come anywhere close to F9‘s size was Bad Boys for Life with 6.8 million in January of that year. We have to go back to December 2019 and the release of Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker to find a bigger first-weekend crowd, and that was (a lower-than-expected) 19.4 million people.

Looking back at the summer of 2019, the usual Disney and Marvel suspects, such as The Lion King (21.3 million), Aladdin (13 million), Toy Story 4 (13.1 million), and Spider-Man: Far From Home (10.4 million), had much bigger opening weekends, but F9‘s debut is still greater than some of that season’s notable franchise sequels, including John Wick: Chapter Three – Parabellum (6.3 million), Godzilla: King of the Monsters (5.3 million), Men in Black: International (3.3 million), Angel Has Fallen (2.3 million), and even the Fast & Furious spinoff Hobbs & Shaw, which sold just 6.7 million tickets that first weekend in August.

And the previous regular series Fast & Furious movie, 2017’s The Fate of the Furious, had already been showing signs of franchise fatigue with its 11 million debut attendance compared to Furious 7‘s incredible 17.5 million prior to that in 2015. Looking at all ten Fast & Furious movies listed below in the order of tickets sold in their first weekends, F9 drew the smallest opening weekend crowd of the main installments since director Justin Lin rerouted the franchise in 2009 with Fast & Furious; the initial F9 box office attendance of 7.6 million falls between the original’s 7.1 million and the first sequel’s 8.4 million.

Opening Weekend Ticket Sales for the Fast and Furious Franchise
1. Furious 7 (2015) – 17.5 million
2. Fast & Furious 6 (2013) – 12 million
3. The Fate of the Furious (2017) – 11 million
4. Fast Five (2011) – 10.9 million
5. Fast & Furious (2009) – 9.5 million
6. 2 Fast 2 Furious (2003) – 8.4 million
7. F9: The Fast Saga (2021) – 7.6 million
8. The Fast and the Furious (2001) – 7.1 million
9. The Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw (2019) – 6.7 million
10. The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift (2006) – 3.7 million

F9 has also had some of the least favorable reactions of the franchise, so that could be another factor in addition to the pandemic keeping some fans at home. While the new movie’s negative-leaning reviews from critics (59% on Rotten Tomatoes, 58 on Metacritic) — the worst for the brand and first rotten score on Rotten Tomatoes since 2009’s Fast & Furious (2017’s The Fate of the Furious was slightly worse if you go by Metacritic’s limited pool of reviews instead) — sits squarely in the middle of the series in fifth place, it was the first installment not to receive either an A or an A- grade from first-day crowds polled by Cinemascore since the original. F9 was graded B+, the same as The Fast and the Furious twenty years ago.

Cinemascore Grades for the Fast and Furious franchise:
Fast Five, Fast & Furious 6, Furious 7, The Fate of the Furious: A
2 Fast 2 Furious, Tokyo Drift, Fast & Furious, Hobbs & Shaw: A-
The Fast and the Furious, F9: B+

So the word of mouth might not be strong for F9, especially as far as being a movie that you have to return to theaters for. Unlike a lot of other movies coming out this year, the Fast & Furious sequel has no alternative home viewing option on a streaming service, a la Warner Bros. movies being day-and-date available on HBO Max and some Disney titles being on Disney+ with an additional premium rental price tag. It’s no surprise that F9 and the similarly theatrical exclusive A Quiet Place Part II have drawn the biggest box office in their debuts. And both may continue to pull in significant attendance while they’re only on the big screen.

However, while Paramount’s A Quiet Place Part II was given a forty-five-day window before it’s out in digital form — I believe that’s for an exclusive on the subscription streaming service Paramount+ — and still doesn’t hit that mark until July 12th, F9 will be available as a premium rental ($19.99) on VOD platforms after only thirty-one days (one month), near the end of July. Universal’s deal for the movie actually benefits theater owners with the debut that F9 had. If the sequel had grossed less than $50 million (the equivalent of selling only around 5.5 million tickets), it would have had a shorter window of just seventeen days before going to VOD. There are millions of fans who are still willing to wait one more month to see it in the continued safety and comfort of their own home, but the extension gives more time for casual fans to find their way to see it on the big screen.

With F9 already performing well internationally at the box office since its overseas debut more than a month earlier, the Fast & Furious sequel has now grossed $405 million worldwide, and it will likely soon overtake Godzilla vs. Kong to be the (temporary?) top-grossing Hollywood release of the year globally (it currently seems to be no match for the Chinese hits Detective Chinatown 3 and Hi, Mom, even in the long run). That’s peanuts compared to the $1.2 billion total worldwide gross for The Fate of the Furious, not to mention the $1.5 billion for Furious 7, but it’s a good sign that slowly yet surely, movie attendance is significantly picking back up.

In other new release box office news, the horror-comedy Werewolves Within, which we think is pretty damn good and even ranks as the best video game movie of all time, gave IFC Films its eighth-best limited-release debut ever with an estimated opening weekend gross of $223,000 and attendance of around 24,000. Unfortunately, that movie’s theatrical success won’t likely build since it’s out on digital this Friday. Since it’s the only other notable debut of the week, I’m again expanding the chart below to twelve titles, with Werewolves Within rounding out the dozen. Meanwhile, despite being available on home video, Nobody returned to the top ten for the first time since early May thanks to Universal pairing it with F9 at drive-ins for a double feature.

Here are this week’s top twelve movie releases by estimated ticket sales [with totals in brackets]:

1. F9: The Fast Saga – 7.6 million [7.6 million]
2. A Quiet Place Part II – 0.7 million [14.9 million]
3. The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard – 0.532 million [2.8 million]
4. Peter Rabbit 2: The Runaway – 0.529 million [3.2 million]
5. Cruella – 0.4 million [7.8 million]
6. The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It – 0.3 million [6.5 million]
7. In the Heights – 0.2 million [2.6 million]
8. Spirit Untamed – 0.11 million [1.7 million]
9. 12 Mighty Orphans – 0.065 million [0.3 million]
10. Nobody – 0.061 million [2.9 million]
11. The House Next Door: Meet the Blacks 2 – 0.025 million [0.3 million]
12. Werewolves Within – 0.024 million [0.024 million]

*Initially box office grosses are estimated and then are later updated for actual figures. All box office gross figures are sourced from Box Office Mojo, The Numbers, and Box Office Pro unless otherwise stated.

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