'F9' Off to Fast Start in China, But Will Tepid Fan Reviews Pump the Brakes on Global Box Office?

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‘F9’ Off to Fast Start in China, But Will Tepid Fan Reviews Pump the Brakes on Global Box Office?

“Given the early stage of release, I don’t think Universal is concerned yet,” Boxoffice editor Daniel Loria says, following a strong $135 million opening weekend in China

Universal’s decision to release “F9” in China a month ahead of the U.S. has paid off in a big way, as the “Fast & Furious” film has scored the biggest opening weekend for a Hollywood film since the start of the pandemic.

This weekend, the ninth “F&F” film — tenth if you include the 2019 spinoff “Hobbs & Shaw” — opened to $135 million at the Chinese box office, with a global opening of $163 million with seven other markets, including Korea, also getting a release this weekend. It is the first Hollywood film since “Avengers: Endgame” two years ago to earn an opening weekend of more than $100 million in China.

But while this is a very encouraging sign for Hollywood that the box office is on its way back to recovery, the bad news is that “F9” was not as well received by audiences as past “Fast & Furious” installments. Currently, the film has a 7.9/10 rating on popular Chinese film site Maoyan. By comparison, “Hobbs & Shaw” had a Maoyan score of 8.7/10, and the four preceding “F&F” films had a score of 9 or higher.

This could increase the chances that “F9” will have a sharp drop-off in weekend grosses in the coming weeks. As it stands, the film is still well on track to pass the $205 million earned in China by “Hobbs & Shaw,” a milestone that Universal will assuredly be happy with reaching. But in a market that has fully recovered from COVID-19 and seen record breaking Lunar New Year business early this year, “F9” will likely fall well short of the franchise-high $392 million earned by “The Fate of the Furious” in 2017.

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So what does this mean for the rest of “F9”‘s theatrical run? The ongoing pandemic and its affect on theater openings and capacity was likely to keep the film short of reaching $1 billion worldwide, but the industry doesn’t need it to reach that mark to be considered a success in a recovering market. If the more lukewarm word-of-mouth currently being seen in China ends up playing out in the U.S. and other parts of the world, it could put a damper on the sort of box office legs that “F&F” has usually demonstrated.

“Given the early stage of release, I don’t think Universal is concerned yet,” Boxoffice editor Daniel Loria said. “But given that ‘F9’ is doing a non-traditional release with some overseas markets ahead of the U.S., it will be worth watching how the film is received in Australia when it is released a week ahead of the U.S. If reception in an English-speaking country is mixed, it will be interesting to see if it affects pre-release buzz domestically.”

Universal is banking on the hope that the desire for escapism will bring moviegoers of all levels of “F&F” fandom back to theaters for a film that promises blockbuster action and cars strapped to rockets. But even if there’s pent-up demand that leads to more frequent moviegoer turnout this summer, competition is still competition. “Black Widow” will hit theaters two weeks after “F9” is released in the U.S., and if the first Marvel movie in two years has better audience reception, revenue for “F9” could become more frontloaded.

For now, “F9” will stand as Hollywood’s strongest opening weekend in the last 15 months, providing hope that as more countries continue to slowly reopen their theaters, the industry will be able to release global hits again.

“Right now in Europe, we are seeing the U.K. post its best weekend numbers since March 2020, and France is not too far behind in recovery,” Loria said. “And now Universal has put out a tentpole that has performed very well in its opening weekend in markets that have rebounded from the pandemic. On a global perspective, there are now a lot of reasons to be hopeful.”

Jeremy Fuster