'Fast & Furious 9'.

Universal Pictures’ ninth installment in the Fast & Furious franchise more than set the pace at the Australian box office on the weekend, raking in nearly $9 million, including an opening day total of $1.48 million.

The film’s opening overtakes Warner Bros.’ Godzilla vs. Kong as the highest of any film post-Covid, and is only slightly below that of The Fate of the Furious, which took $10 million over the Easter long weekend in 2017.

Director Justin Lin’s latest contribution to the saga has Dom Toretto (Vin Diesel) leading a quiet life off the grid with Letty and his son, Little Brian, when a threat forces him to confront the sins of his past in order to save the ones he loves most.

F9 shared its opening day with Madman Films’ local documentary Valerie Taylor: Playing With Sharks, which took in $39,403 from 64 screens, or $73,474 with previews.

Sydney’s Hayden Orpheum Picture Palace hosted the sold-out Australian premiere of the documentary earlier this month, for which it staged a Q&A with shark tamer Valerie Taylor, director Sally Aitken and producer Bettina Dalton.

General manager Alex Temesvari told IF while demand for the film had been slightly “burnt off” in the weeks since, other titles such as Cruella and The Courier continued to perform well for the venue.

“We had a fantastic weekend of trading thanks to a combination of wet weather, good selection of films, and some hugely successful live events,” he said.

“Impressively, Cruella came out on top in week four, followed closely by F9 in the number 2 spot.

“Perhaps most impressively though The Courier came in at number 3 in week 14. I believe we’re now the #1 location in the country for the film.”

Audiences attending cinemas in certain local government areas across Sydney were required to wear masks from yesterday afternoon in response to the Eastern Suburbs outbreak. The restrictions will remain in place until at least Thursday.

In Victoria, audiences are returning to theatres post-lockdown, albeit under capacity restrictions that limit cinema attendance to 50 per cent, or 75 people.

Village Cinemas Programming manager Geoff Chard told IF the impact of the precautions was still substantial.

“If Victoria’s trading restrictions were removed I have no doubt that F9 would have opened ahead of its predecessor,” he said.

“It is yet another example of customers that are more than willing to return to the cinemas when the product is available.

“This week we’re preparing to head into the school holidays without a big blockbuster kids/family title, though we do hold high hopes that Spirit Untamed will draw in some decent crowds, along with the other animated titles Moonbound, Cranston Academy and Little Vampire.”

There was also positive news from Victoria’s independent sector, with Cinema Nova reporting a 23 per cent increase in sales from the period of Thursday-Sunday from the previous weekend, due to many sessions selling out and almost every title enjoying an uptick.

However, CEO Kristian Connelly questioned the capacity restrictions placed on exhibitors, which he said were “at odds” with those being applied to their retail and hospitality counterparts.

“To date, there has not been a single case of proven Covid transmission at a cinema anywhere in the world, and despite the ease of contact tracing for cinemas as well as a mask-wearing requirement we cannot have anywhere near the density of a restaurant or store,” he said.

“These factors, including the unease that lockdowns cause for consumers as well as almost five months of vaccine uncertainty, are making exhibition an incredible challenge for Melbourne operators after 16 months of living with the pandemic.”

Overall, the top 20 titles grossed $13.7 million according to Numero, an 85 per cent increase on the previous, of which F9‘s result accounted for nearly 65 per cent.

Warner Bros’ previously top ranked Conjuring 3 was less of a fright this weekend, dropping 41 per cent to take $1.3 million, claiming second spot behind F9 and pushing its gross total to $8 million.

Fellow horror A Quiet Place Part II rounded out the top three, with the Paramount sequel collecting $1 million to advance to $11.7 million after four weeks.

Disney’s Cruella joined both films in dropping down one spot from the previous week, taking in $932,000 to move to $6.5 million.

The previous week’s new releases, Universal’s Spirit Untamed and Sony’s Dream Horse, continue to occupy places midway through the top ten, with the former taking in $591,000 to hold onto its number five position and push its gross to $2.2 million, while the latter’s weekend takings of $474,000 saw it drop from four to six and advance to $1.6 million.

The Animal Logic Entertainment co-produced Peter Rabbit 2 is still managing six figures, despite being released 13 weeks ago, moving to $21.4 million after raking in $100,734.

Like Spirit Untamed, Vendetta’s Kiwi film Cousins held its position from its opening weekend, achieving $46,188 to remain at eighth and bring its gross total to $174,197.

Studiocanal’s Wrath of Man was the only other film to make more than $40,000, coming in at ninth with $41,188. The Guy Ritchie film now sits on $7.2 million.

Sitting just outside the top ten was ABCG Films’ My Name Is Gulpilil, which was one of only two titles in the top 20 to improve its ranking from the previous weekend. The film continues to hold, dropping only 10 per cent to garner $32,934, bringing its gross total to $331,618 and moving from 16th to 12th.

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