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F9 adds fuel to domestic box office, but recovery's mileage remains uncertain

A strong U.S. theatrical debut for the newest installment in the Fast & Furious franchise is giving exhibitors hope for more normalized box office returns, but how much pent-up demand translates to ticket sales amid changing distribution strategies makes the post-pandemic theatrical recovery uncertain, analysts said.

"F9" brought in about $70 million in ticket sales during its June 25 opening weekend, on the high end of projections, and the film is expected to collect about $28 million in its second weekend, according to Variety. A $28 million opening would make "F9" a contender to stay atop the U.S. box office for a second weekend against three other new titles: "The Boss Baby: Family Business," "The Forever Purge" and "Zola." Exhibitors are also looking ahead to the July 9 weekend, when The Walt Disney Co.'s Marvel Studios releases "Black Widow" in theaters and premium video-on-demand, in a test of how much the hybrid release model might impact other blockbuster releases.

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"F9," the latest installment of the Fast & Furious franchise,
opened to about $70 million in the U.S. over the June 25
weekend.

Source: Universal Pictures

Earlier films in the Fast & Furious franchise reported a $75 million average opening ahead of average total revenue of $821.4 million, leading to an average profit margin of 44.9%, according to data from Kagan, a media research group within S&P Global Market Intelligence. With $70 million in its first weekend, "F9" could prove a return to a more normalized theatrical run for Comcast Corp.'s Universal Pictures if the film holds its appeal with audiences for as long as its predecessors.

As to the July 2 new releases, Shawn Robbins, lead analyst at Box Office Pro, predicts "The Boss Baby: Family Business," will open to about $20 million, though he predicts it could go as high as $35 million. Robbins put a $13 million forecast on "The Forever Purge." In comparison, Variety forecasts a $15 million opening for "The Boss Baby: Family Business" and a $10 million debut for "The Forever Purge."

In a normal summer, exhibitors would get another blockbuster title for the weekend following "F9," Robbins noted. While "F9" gives studios more confidence in their film slates, likely dissuading them from pushing back any more openings, the rest of 2021 has a more limited number of major titles, the analyst said.

"[The studios] have to establish their pipeline months in advance," Robbins said. "They can't just move James Bond to next month."

"No Time to Die," the next major release in the Bond franchise, is slated for theatrical release Oct. 8. Forecasts are not yet available for that film. After "F9," most expect Disney's "Black Widow" to be the next blockbuster, with Robbins predicting the film will collect as much as $90 million over its July 9 weekend opening.

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"Black Widow" from Disney's Marvel Studios releases in theaters and on streaming in the U.S. on July 9.
Source: Marvel Studios

Disney's hybrid "Black Widow" distribution complicates forecasts, however, as exhibition analysts weigh the potential cannibalization of hybrid releases. While most agree that a film like "Black Widow" will be well-received during its opening weekend due to pent up demand for a theatrical event from Marvel, its streaming debut could eat into the title's success in subsequent weekends.

"Repeat viewing, I would assume that more would be done on streaming than returning to the theaters," said Wedbush Securities exhibition analyst Alicia Reese.

Reese expects "Black Widow" to bring in about $184 million from its domestic theatrical run. Overall, she believes the 2021 box office will be down about 58% from 2019, the last "normal" box office year, or up about 129% from 2020's pandemic-constrained total.

Wade Holden, an analyst with Kagan, was less sure 2021 could beat out 2020 given the year's tepid release slate. Kagan is a media research group within S&P Global Market Intelligence.

"You have to have the product out there," Holden said. "We're halfway through the box office year, and it has yet to hit where 2020 was when the pandemic hit in March. We have 26 weeks to grow past that."

Analysts agreed said other matters complicating the box office outlook for the rest of this year include competition from other out-of-home entertainment venues resuming more normal schedules this summer as well as the still-limited availability of services like child care.

"We won't know what the [box office] recovery looks like for another six to 12 months," said Box Office Pro's Robbins.

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