The movie industry needs a hit. Enter ‘F9’

The movie industry needs a hit. Enter ‘F9’

As Dominic Toretto, the main character of the Fast & Furious franchise, once said, “it don’t matter if you win by an inch or a mile, winning’s winning.” That’s true, but the movie theater industry really needs this weekend’s box office to win by a lot.

“F9: The Fast Saga,” the latest film from the high octane action franchise, opened Thursday night. This summer’s box office had its hits and disappointments, but in many ways the movie season truly kicks off this weekend with “F9,” the first true blue blockbuster of the summer movie season.

How the film does these next few days could tell Hollywood, and especially theater owners, how the rest of the summer box office may perform — as well as the rest of 2021.

The film, which stars Vin Diesel as Toretto, is opening in 4,000 domestic theaters, the largest theater count since the pandemic started. It’s expected to bring in about $60 million in North America. The film made $7.1 million in Thursday night’s previews, a good start.

That total would make it the biggest opening of the pandemic so far and could — please pardon this awful pun — keep theater’s engines running through the 4th of July holiday weekend next week and into Marvel’s “Black Widow” — the summer’s next potential blockbuster, which hits theaters and Disney+ on July 9.

The Fast & Furious franchise is one of the most popular brands in all of cinema, racking up more than $6 billion worldwide. Also, “F9,” which opened overseas last month, is already a success for its studio, Universal, bringing in almost $300 million so far. So it has plenty working in its favor.

What F9’s success would mean for Hollywood

This weekend’s box office numbers are important from a financial standpoint since movies are, after all, a business. However, the performance of “F9” is more symbolic than monetary since it comes at a time when this summer has seen a bit of everything. It’s hard to tell how the movie business is going as theaters try to get back on their feet.

“The industry is at an inflection point and all roads have led to a late-starting — albeit incredibly important — summer movie season,” Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst at Comscore, told CNN Business. “The tone will be set by the performance of ‘F9’ and then ‘Black Widow.’ Those films will indicate over the next few weeks what the future holds for movie theaters.”

The summer officially kicked off on Memorial Day weekend with Paramount’s “A Quiet Place, Part II.” It was a surprise hit, notching the biggest domestic opening of the pandemic. The film has made almost $130 million in North America.

Then the summer cooled down considerably when Warner Bros.’ “In The Heights” missed the mark at the box office two weeks ago. (Warner Bros., like CNN, is owned by WarnerMedia.)

Making up lost ground

The movie industry is far from where it was in pre-pandemic times, but as more movies hit theaters, more audiences and money follow. For example, the months of April, May and June have each brought in more than $200 million at the domestic box office, according to Comscore. While far from spectacular not nearly as disastrous as last year.

Each month since March has brought in more at the box office than the month prior. June alone has already brought in more money at the North American box office than the months of January, February and March combined.

That isn’t surprising, since vaccinations didn’t ramp up until the spring, not to mention there are a whole lot more movies to see now than there were just five months ago. Foot traffic may not yet be at a level that makes theater owners like AMC happy, but that’s why this weekend is so vital: It’s another opportunity for theaters to build momentum.

So as the box office slowly tries to get back to normal, it’s also moving in the right direction. For “F9,” one of the most anticipated films of 2021, having a successful weekend will only help that trend continue.