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The only thing stronger than family? The box office debut of F9, the latest entry in Universal’s Fast & Furious saga.

After many delays over the course of a year and a half, F9 opened to a mighty $70 million from 4,179 North American venues. That’s by far the biggest start for a movie at the US box office since the onset of Covid-19.

The big-screen homage to hulking men, speedy cars and gravity-defying stunts is giving some much-needed momentum to the movie theatre business, which has been struggling to rebound as audiences begin to feel comfortable returning to their local multiplex. F9 is the latest blockbuster-hopeful to set a new box office benchmark for Covid times. Prior to this weekend, Paramount’s A Quiet Place Part II held the pandemic-era opening weekend with $48.3 million in inaugural ticket sales.

F9 wasn’t expected to reach the opening weekend heights of its franchise predecessors because attendance hasn’t returned to pre-Covid levels and the Canadian box office, which accounts for part of North American revenues, is still almost entirely shut down. In terms of Fast series launches, F9 has a slight edge on the 2019 spinoff Hobbs & Shaw, which generated $60 million and ended its theatrical run with $173 million in the US and $759 million globally. The previous film in the core series was 2017’s The Fate of the Furious, which opened to $98 million and ultimately grossed $226 million in North America and $1.2 billion worldwide. The 2015 entry Furious 7 marked a franchise high, posting a huge $147.2 million in its first three days of release, on its way to $353 million at the domestic box office and $1.5 billion globally.

David A. Gross, who runs the movie consulting firm Franchise Entertainment Research, says the inaugural weekend of F9 is “an excellent opening in an extraordinary series.”

“During the last month, moviegoing has shown flashes of real strength, including this weekend and A Quiet Place 2, but it has also been tentative,” Gross says. “F9 and A Quiet Place 2 are the cleanest reads of what the business can do now — both strong series and pure theatrical releases/no streaming.”

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