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Box Office: How ‘F9’ Defied Conventional Wisdom In Both America And China

By News Creatives Authors , in Business , at January 1, 1970

F9 swiftly raced to the top of the various VOD platforms upon its PVOD debut. As part of the deal Comcast cut with AMC (and eventually the other theater chains), films opening above $50 million on opening weekend would get theatrical windows of 31 days, as opposed to 17 for smaller/non-tentpole flicks. Since F9 opened with $70 million on the weekend of June 25, it only just now dropped on PVOD this past Friday, its 36th day of domestic theatrical release. To the surprise of absolutely no one, the ninth Fast and Furious movie (or the tenth counting Hobbs & Shaw) is currently tops on almost every VOD chart, save for iTunes (which doesn’t track PVOD offerings) and Google (which is currently topped by In The Heights).

It can be said, at least barring a miracle from The Suicide Squad or Free Guy, that F9 is the one uncontested summer season tentpole smash of 2021. Yes, it was also among the only big movies that remained in summer 2021 which absolutely would have been huge smash hits in normal times, something to consider when pondering if the failure of Snake Eyes and Space Jam: A New Legacy means that the post-summer biggies (Venom 2, No Time to Die, Top Gun: Maverick, etc.) should be delayed again. The $200 million actioner has earned $169 million domestic and $642 million worldwide, setting up a likely domestic total just above Hobbs & Shaw ($173 million domestic) and a global total likely in the over/under $675 million range.

Yes, this is judging the film on a Covid curve. The decline from $1.236 billion from Fate of the Furious to a likely $675 million cume for F9 is frankly on par with the franchise-endangering drop from Transformers: Age of Extinction ($1.104 billion in 2014) to Transformers: The Last Knight ($605 million in 2017). I have no doubt that, unlike the likes of Black Widow, Wonder Woman 1984, Mulan and Tenet, F9 would have likely crossed $1 billion worldwide had it opened in a non-Covid environment. However, F9 is by far the biggest global earner outside of China since Jumanji: The Next Level and Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker. Moreover, the manner in which it made its money is curious and in opposition to conventional wisdom.

Conventional wisdom would suggest that F9 would open big in North America and then take a swift decline due to A) meh word-of-mouth, B) Covid-specific theatrical variables and C) its sooner-than-normal availability on PVOD. Conventional wisdom would also suggest that it would open huge and soar to infinity and beyond in China, because Hobbs & Shaw nabbed $201 million there in 2019 while both Furious 7 and Fate of the Furious earned $392 million in 2015 and 2017. However, the exact opposite happened. The film opened in China a month early and mediocre/lousy word-of-mouth kicked in on opening night. Conversely, reviews in North America were mixed-positive, and the film may yet become the leggiest “not a spin-off” Fast & Furious film since 2 Fast 2 Furious.

Contrary to popular belief, Chinese moviegoers didn’t care about what John Cena did or didn’t say about Taiwan in interviews. The film opened with $59 million on Friday (counting $9.2 million in sneaks) and $47 million on Saturday for an eventual $136 million Fri-Sun debut. That was fine by any other standard, but below the $168 million launch for Fate of the Furious. Moreover, Chinese audiences just didn’t like the movie. It earned a 6.0 on Douban, an 8.0 on Taopiaopio and an 8.1 on Maoyan). Chinese audiences are completely able to say “No, thank you” to a movie like F9, in this case for the same reason they didn’t care for Detective Chinatown 3 ($685 million but from a $398.5 million debut).

Blame over-convoluted franchise-building, retroactive continuity reveals and digressions that serve little purpose other than to set up the next chapters. $216 million in China is a disappointment only compared to prior Fast Saga flicks. I’m more worried about how Fast & Furious 10 will fare. Chinese moviegoers showed up for X-Men: Apocalypse ($123 million in 2016) and Terminator: Genisys ($113 million in 2015) only to stay home from Dark Phoenix ($59 million in 2019) and Terminator: Dark Fate ($51 million in 2019). They even (comparatively) took a break from Transformers, with Age of Extinction earning $320 million in China while The Last Knight earned “just” $228 million. Once again, China won’t just devour any and all conventional Hollywood blockbusters. Warcraft was more frontloaded in China than North America.

Meanwhile, the word of mouth in North America and in most of the world outside of China was distinctly “Fine, whatever.” The film opened with $70 million domestic, lower than the $71 million debut if Fast & Furious 9 in 2009 but pretty close to what I’d argue F9 was going to earn on opening weekend in normal circumstances. Fate of the Furious, which earned $226 million from a $99 million debut, was nobody’s favorite entry, and there was only so much additional interest to be added by having John Cena as Dom’s brother and bringing Han back to life. Nonetheless, the film has legged out to $168.5 million. It already has a 2.4x multiplier from that $70 million debut, which for this franchise is pretty damn leggy.

The Fast and the Furious earned $144.5 million domestic in summer 2001 from a $40 million opening. As for the rest, they go 2 Fast 2 Furious (2.54x – $127 million/$50.4 million in 2003), Tokyo Drift (2.58x – $62 million/$24 million in 2006), Fast & Furious (2.18x – $155 million/$71 million in 2009), Fast Five (2.44x – $210 million/$86.2 million in 2011), Fast & Furious 6 (2.03x- $238 million/$117 million Fri-Mon in 2013), Furious 7 (2.4x – $353 million/$147 million in 2015), Fate of the Furious (2.28x – $226 million/$99 million in 2017) and Hobbs & Shaw (2.94x – $174 million/$59 million in 2019). F9 is going to be the second or third-leggiest sequel (depending on if you count Tokyo Drift as a spin-off) in the F&F saga.

The short run in China is both normal (most Hollywood biggies are frontloaded in China) and somewhat circumstantial (audiences didn’t like it and they didn’t care less about #Justice4Han). And if F9 hits $683 million, it’ll have earned less of its total in China (31.6%) than Fate of the Furious. As for legs in North America, credit the film, like Spectre or the Transformers sequels giving fans exactly what they expected from a given franchise while giving general audiences a generally painless mega-bucks action blockbuster with well-liked characters at the helm. Also, of course, credit the film for being one of the few tentpoles to tough it out this summer. When your blockbuster competition is Black Widow, Space Jam 2 and Snake Eyes, well, it’s easier to be king.


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