Vin Diesel in Fast and Furious 9

Memorial Day Weekend marked an unofficial return to the movie theaters in the United States. And while the campaign backed by most major studios and all of the theatrical chains got off to a decent start, momentum since has slowed considerably, to the point where industry analysts are worried. Hollywood studios aren’t convinced that mainstream audiences are ready to head back to the theaters, and the box-office data from the past few weekends suggest that this concern has merit. John Krasinkis’ anticipated sequel A Quiet Place Part II may have opened decently to $47.5 million. But Ryan Reynolds’ The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard needed only $11.6 million to take the top slot at the box this past weekend, and those numbers aren’t impressing anyone.

The excuses as to why people aren’t returning to theaters are running out. Vaccinations continue to roll out in all 50 states, and the number of COVID cases in the U.S. have been on a steady decline since April 16. School’s also out for summer, meaning families and (more important) teenagers are looking for something to do. However, after a year and a half of being contained inside, the bulk of people appear to be choosing outdoor alternatives to fill their time. That explains why the musical In The Heights made only $4.2 million in its second weekend, or Edgar Wright’s critically acclaimed documentary The Sparks Brothers earned only $265,000.

All eyes are on F9 at the moment. The sequel opens in the States on June 25, but already has posted a healthy number on international markets. F9 has a global cume of $292 million per BoxOfficeMojo. But there are three major reasons why the movie’s success is pivotal to the long-term future of the movie theater industry.

F9 action

Movie Theaters And Major Studios Desperately Need A Substantial Opening Weekend

Movie theater chains have been saying this often during the pandemic, “Just hold it together until the movies come back.” Well, the movies are back, but the crowds aren’t following. There are reasons. The movies currently being offered as bait for mainstream crowds don’t qualify as Must See. Warner Bros. bet big on Lin-Manuel Miranda’s name attracting some people to In The Heights, but it hasn’t achieved any great heights. And Guy Ritchie hasn’t been a massive box-office draw unless he’s helming a live-action remake for Disney, so it’s no surprise Wrath of Man has stalled shy of $30 million. Additionally, half of the films available in theaters right now can also be viewed at home, which has to be encouraging people to opt out of a theater trip.

Then there’s the competition. Four of the top 10 movies on the box-office chart are family movies vying for the same ticket buyers. Which means none of the movies are doing nearly as good as, say, if only one or two of them were in the marketplace. These factors have led to lackluster reasons for audiences to even look to the multiplex as a viable distraction. Movie theaters that continue to struggle desperately need the influx of customers that a big-ticket franchise picture like F9 usually brings.

Black Widow

Black Widow Is The Only Slam Dunk After F9, Yet Even That Has Some Questions

Another reason why the industry is eyeballing F9 as the temporary savior that they need is because there’s no slam-dunk winner waiting in the wings. Black Widow seems like a natural hit, being that it’s the latest effort from the enormously successful Marvel Studios. However, experts already feared that a prequel story who has died on The Sacred Timeline might not be as coveted as an Avengers team-up movie, and Black Widow will be available on Disney+ for $30, so it’s not the theatrical exclusive that F9 is.

Those two are the biggest franchise plays in the immediate future. After that, it’s crap shoots. Space Jam: A New Legacy will hope that LeBron James’ popularity and nostalgia for the original will draw some crowds (though that movie also will be available on HBO Max). The Forever Purge will compete against Escape Room: Tournament of Champions for the horror dollar. And Jungle Cruise could be the next Pirates of the Caribbean, or it might be a dud like Dumbo. No one knows until it screens, but betting big on it doesn’t make sense at the moment.

Lettie and Dom

Success Breeds Positive Word-of-Mouth, And Audience Goodwill

Finally, the industry knows that F9 roaring back into movie theaters could create a snowball effect of positive word-of-mouth about the return of the moviegoing experience, and audience goodwill is more valuable now than it’s ever been. Casual moviegoers, the people who might only see two or three films at the theater in a year, rely heavily on recommendations to decide what they are going to see. They’re not concerned with being there for opening weekend, but typically will catch up with a buzzy title because someone already went to see it, then told them that they had to go.

Because F9 won’t be available to stream, anyone who wants to take in the spectacle of the Toretto’s latest soap opera will have to get behind the wheel of their own cars and get to a local multiplex. And movie studios know that if enough people recommend F9, and a sliver of them see a trailer or a poster for a movie they’d like to see later, then a trip to the movies could be back on the radar.

F9 will neither make nor break the movie theater industry. But it’s being recognized as a vital measuring stick for the direction that the movie theater industry is heading as the summer rolls on, and that’s why it’s incredibly important this weekend and beyond.

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