'F9' stays atop box office as Universal manages rare hat trick

This ninth installment in the Fast and Furious franchise -- starring Vin Diesel, Michelle Rodriguez and John Cena -- fended off two strong new challengers, earning an estimated $23.8 million to hold its lead in North American box offices.

South African-US actress Charlize Theron, actor Tyrese Gibson, actor-musician Chris "Ludacris" Bridges, Japanese-New Zealand actress Anna Sawai, actor-producer Vin Diesel and US-Taiwanese director Justin Lin arrive for the world premiere of "F9: The Fast Saga" at the TCL Chinese theatre in Hollywood on June 18, 2021. Picture: AFP.

LOS ANGELES, United States - Universal's F9: The Fast Saga remained at top speed over the weekend, earning an estimated $23.8 million to hold its lead in North American box offices, industry watcher Exhibitor Relations reported on Sunday.

That total, covering just the first three days of the four-day July 4 holiday weekend, was down sharply from the zoom-bang-bam action film's opening total of $70 million.

Still, this ninth installment in the Fast and Furious franchise -- starring Vin Diesel, Michelle Rodriguez and John Cena -- fended off two strong new challengers. In fact, Universal pulled off a rare hat trick, dominating all three top box-office spots.

That studio's animated sequel _The Boss Baby: Family Business _placed second, at $17.3 million. The latest yarn about a can-do "boss baby" who energizes -- or infuriates -- all around him features the voices of Alec Baldwin, Eva Longoria, Jeff Goldblum, Lisa Kudrow and Jimmy Kimmel.

In third was horror film The Forever Purge, headed for a $12.8 million take. This fifth, and purportedly last, in the "Purge" series is again set in a dystopian near-future where all crime, including murder, is made legal one day a year. Ana de la Reguera and Tenoch Huerta star.

Fourth spot went to Paramount'sA Quiet Place: Part II, at $4.2 million. This was the first weekend since the John Krasinski-directed horror film's release six weeks ago that it placed out of the top two.

And in fifth was a Lionsgate sequel, The Hitman's Wife's Bodyguard, at $3 million. The action comedy has Ryan Reynolds, Samuel L. Jackson and Salma Hayek reprising their roles from 2017's The Hitman's Bodyguard.

As Hollywood claws its way back from the devastating COVID-19 pandemic, studios have yet to release the usual full menu of summer blockbusters. The $70.7 million combined gross of this weekend's top 12 films was less than half the normal from past July 4 weekends.

Rounding out this weekend's top 10 were:

_Cruella _($2.6 million)

Peter Rabbit 2: The Runaway ($2.3 million)

_The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It _($1.3 million)

_In the Heights _($1.3 million)

_Zola _($1.2 million)

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