China dethrones the US as the largest film market in the world: Fast and Furious 9 earned US$135 million at the Chinese box office, though local movies dominated during the pandemic

Vin Diesel and John Cena in F9, directed by Justin Lin, which earned over US$100 million at China’s box offices on opening weekend. Photo: Handout

The Fast and Furious franchise has long been an international hit. And the latest film in the series is off to a strong start, even at a Chinese box office recovering from the pandemic.

Fast and Furious 9, or simply F9, earned US$162 million internationally over the weekend after its May 19 release, with US$135 million of that coming from China. It’s the first Hollywood movie since 2019’s Avengers: Endgame to crack US$100 million in its opening weekend in China. The movie, which was delayed more than a year, doesn’t open in the US until June 25.

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A poster for Fast and Furious 9. Photo: Handout

The last two entries in the main series, Furious 7 and The Fate of the Furious, both grossed more than US$1 billion globally and around US$390 million in China.

F9’s early success offers fresh relief that big-budget Hollywood tentpoles can still perform well in a region that Hollywood has relied heavily on to boost global box-office numbers in recent years, but where local productions largely dominated during the pandemic.

The pandemic has greatly accelerated China’s box-office dominance over the US, which could also have major ramifications. 

Vin Diesel and Sung Kang in a still from Fast & Furious 9. Photo: Handout

The Chinese cinema industry experienced an incredible rebound after the region’s thousands of theatres shut down for months during the pandemic. Local films did gangbuster business while Hollywood releases like Soul and Wonder Woman 1984 underwhelmed. 

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Local films accounted for 85 per cent of China’s box office in 2020, up from 60 per cent in 2018, according to the analytics company Comscore. The top 10 grossing films at the China box office from April 1, 2020 to March 29, 2021 were all locally produced.

Residents watch a movie at a cinema in Shanghai, China, on April 5, 2021. Photo: Costfoto/Barcroft Media via Getty Images

Gitesh Pandya, the editor of, noted in April that Hollywood delayed many of its biggest films, and that the right movie could still sell. 

“There’s certainly plenty of hope in Hollywood that China will still be a crucial market,” Pandya said at the time.

Since then, Godzilla vs. Kong (which has made US$183 million there) and now Fast and Furious 9 have eased some concerns.

Millie Bobby Brown (front) reprises her role from Godzilla: King of the Monsters in Godzilla vs. Kong. Photo: Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.

But while the US market is showing some signs of life (Godzilla vs. Kong is nearing US$100 million domestically), China has dethroned the US as the biggest theatrical market in the world. 

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The research firm Ampere Analysis had projected China to overtake the US by 2022 before the pandemic. It now expects China to remain at the top indefinitely as the US market slowly springs back. 

People watch a movie at a cinema in Beijing, China in February 2021. Photo: Xinhua

Ampere Analysis research director Richard Cooper said that China’s theatrical market will continue to expand and ticket sales will rise, along with Chinese revenue for US films, while the US theatrical market will shrink. 

“The previously stable US market will reduce in size following the pandemic,” Cooper said. “This is largely due to a forecast downturn in film financing and the fact that some US cinemas will close permanently.”

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  • Fast and Furious 9, or F9, was the first Hollywood film to crack US$100,000 on opening weekend in China since 2019’s Avengers: Endgame
  • Wonder Woman 1984 and Soul were flops, but Godzilla vs. Kong bagged US$183 million