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'F9' Success Might Indicate Audiences Are Ready To Return To Theaters

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

The latest "Fast And Furious" sequel, "F9" has just had the best weekend box office of any film since 2019. Does that mean audiences are ready to go back to movie theaters? Well, NPR's Bob Mondello says it's certainly encouraging.

BOB MONDELLO, BYLINE: The last film to make more than $70 million in North America in a single weekend with "Star Wars: The Rise Of Skywalker"

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "STAR WARS: THE RISE OF SKYWALKER")

OSCAR ISAAC: (As Poe Dameron) What are you doing there, 3PO?

ANTHONY DANIELS: (As C-3PO) Taking one last look, sir, at my friends.

MONDELLO: That was two Christmases ago. Vin Diesel's "F9" has now raced, not just to the biggest opening of the pandemic, but to numbers that would have been respectable pre-pandemic. It's also playing to extremely diverse audiences, and it's not even running at full throttle.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "F9")

VIN DIESEL: (As Dominic Toretto) Crank it all the way up.

MONDELLO: They can't. Theaters in six states are required to operate at reduced capacity, and many Canadian cinemas are still closed. That said, audiences definitely came out to see "F9" this weekend, just as they have overseas since it opened in China a month ago. "F9's" worldwide total is now over $400 million. And happily for the film industry, the "Fast And Furious" ninth-quel (ph) isn't alone. Also doing substantial business are three other sequels.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "A QUIET PLACE PART II")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As character) There are people out there, people worth saving.

MONDELLO: "A Quiet Place Part II," also Disney's "Cruella"...

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "CRUELLA")

EMMA STONE: (As Cruella) I'm just getting started, darling.

MONDELLO: ...And the latest in the "Conjuring" series.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE CONJURING: THE DEVIL MADE ME DO IT")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As character) I think I hurt someone.

MONDELLO: Together, those four films have taken in just shy of a billion dollars worldwide in one month. Great news until you consider that during summer blockbuster season in a normal year, the numbers would be roughly twice that. If the film industry isn't operating on all cylinders just yet, COVID-related skittishness is only one reason. For the last 16 months, film studios have been encouraging patrons to look for even their biggest blockbusters on streaming services. Breaking audiences of that habit may prove tricky. So far, films that have opened only in theaters have tended to do best. Will that last? Well, we should get an indication soon. The top four films this week opened exclusively in theaters. Next week, though, "Black Widow" is arriving simultaneously in theaters and on Disney Plus.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "BLACK WIDOW")

SCARLETT JOHANSSON: (As Black Widow) Here's what's going to happen.

MONDELLO: It's a Marvel first that has industry-watchers intrigued.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "BLACK WIDOW")

RACHEL WEISZ: (As Melina) Natasha, don't slouch.

JOHANSSON: (As Black Widow) I'm not slouching.

MONDELLO: Will the film slump at the box office if it's available at home?

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "BLACK WIDOW")

DAVID HARBOUR: (As Red Guardian) Listen to your mother.

JOHANSSON: (As Black Widow) Oh, my God. This...

MONDELLO: Most films that have gone that route have more than just slouched.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "BLACK WIDOW")

JOHANSSON: (As Black Widow) All right. Enough, all of you.

MONDELLO: Stay tuned. I'm Bob Mondello.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.