Movie theaters across the country hit the F9 key over the weekend, giving multiplex operators their strongest opening for a single movie since late 2019. F9 -- the ninth film in the Fast and Furious franchise -- rang up an estimated $70 million in domestic ticket sales over the weekend. You have to go back to the ninth installment of the Star Wars series that topped $177 million in opening weekend box office receipts nearly 18 months ago for a stronger domestic debut.

This is obviously welcome news for AMC Entertainment Holdings (AMC -1.76%) and its peers. The arrival of a highly anticipated movie that isn't available on any of the major streaming services is a hit, and the positive implications go well beyond a big weekend of ticket and popcorn sales for exhibitors. Even though $70 million in domestic ticket sales means that just 2% of the country saw Comcast's (CMCSA -0.15%) F9 on the silver screen, the feat should make rival studios more comfortable in sticking to upcoming theatrical release dates for their biggest films. On a higher level, F9's financial success could lead studios to rethink their approach to making films available on premium streaming platforms the same day the flicks hit theaters.   

A pair of movie patrons watching a film at a multiplex.

Image source: Getty Images.

Putting the pedal to the metal

A lot has changed since Saturday Night Live skewered AMC and the moviegoing experience in its season finale five weeks ago. Beck Bennett played Vin Diesel, singing the praises and pitfalls of checking out F9 at the local AMC multiplex. The parody ends when he is asked by an AMC attendant to put on a mask, at which point he advises viewers that it's time to go home and watch the movie. 

AMC no longer requires vaccinated guests to wear face coverings unless local regulations state otherwise. It's also not as easy as it's been with other studio releases to enjoy the film from home. Comcast won't make it available as a premium on-demand stream for another month following its blazing debut weekend. 

Where will the summer go from here? Things should get even better. As big as F9's premiere was, total ticket sales across all movies failed to crack $100 million. This weekend didn't break the three-day Memorial Day holiday weekend's high-water mark for 2021. The lack of major releases is why A Quiet Place Part II has been one of the two most-viewed films for five consecutive weekends. That run will undeniably end soon, as that movie will be available on Paramount+ in two weeks. 

Thankfully the pipeline is loaded in July. It's not just about the U.S. market. F9 has now topped $400 million in ticket sales worldwide since opening earlier in most major countries. More than half of those box office receipts have come from China. AMC and its rivals don't need to have a global reach for this to matter. Hollywood knows that the U.S. market is just one part of a global moviegoing audience that needs the escapism of films on the largest screens available. 

Improving multiplex trends doesn't necessarily mean that AMC stock will go higher. The stock's market cap has already exploded 55-fold over the past year between its big gains and its outstanding shares count expanding nearly fivefold. There are cheaper ways to ride the industry's revival. However, fundamentally speaking AMC is in great shape. Its ascent has inspired AMC's CEO to appeal directly to its millions of retail investors. Selling stock at elevated price points has armed it with cash to outlast the competition if not outright acquire them. 

AMC has been not just one of the market's hottest entertainment stocks, but one of Wall Street's biggest winners -- period -- this year. The thesis all along has been that theater patrons will come back. Well, they're back.