Hollywood is finally revving up the summer blockbuster engines for the first time since COVID-19 idled the movie business. “F9,” the ninth installment in the popular “Fast & Furious” saga, hits United States and Canadian cinemas on Thursday night. The movie is the first big-budget action spectacle being released exclusively in theaters this year.

Cinema operators hope “F9” will kick-start domestic ticket sales to help them recover from extended closures and restricted reopening with few new movies to show.

Comcast Corp’s Universal Pictures postponed the May 2020 release to give fans the chance to safely watch “F9” on a big screen in a crowd, director Justin Lin said.

“When we make these movies, it’s about connection,” Lin said in an interview. “It’s about people going to the cinemas with their friends and family, to be able to hopefully cheer together and laugh together with strangers.”

The “Fast” saga started as a story about illegal street racing and evolved into the tale of a close-knit team involved in heists and espionage. It is one of Hollywood’s most successful franchises, collecting more than $5 billion worldwide since the first film in 2001.