Fast Five Fires Up Slow Box Office
By John Hamann
May 1, 2011
The box office finally found the turbo button this weekend, as Fast Five revved up and took off with a very big win - something that was definitely needed around these parts. Summer starts in April this year, as Universal Films launched the fifth film in what is currently their most successful franchise. The bar was set high, as the last film, Fast & Furious, opened to a powerful $71 million. Other openers this weekend included Prom, from Disney, and Hoodwinked Too!: Hood vs Evil, but to mention them in the same breath as Fast Five is silly, as their combined openings were a little over 10% of what the Vin Diesel film did this weekend.
After a cold winter/spring where no film opened higher than $39.2 million, Fast Five will make us forget about that ridiculously long stretch quite quickly, as the Universal popcorn flick powered up the box office with a weekend gross of $83.6 million. That's a record for an opener in April and for the franchise, as Fast Five bests Fast & Furious, the 2009 entry in the series that took down $71 million over its opening session. You know you are doing something right when the fifth film in a franchise outdoes the fourth. Despite these extremely high numbers, it usually goes the other way. Fast Five debuted at 3,644 venues (a moderate count for a blockbuster of this size) and had a powerful venue average of $22,942. Some sources say Fast Five cost Universal as much as $150 million to make, but it has become the studio's biggest opener ever, eclipsing Jurassic Park: The Lost World, which debuted to $72 million in 1997.
It's been an odd route for the The Fast and the Furious franchise. It all started ten years ago in June 2001, when The Fast and The Furious opened to $40 million, beating its $38 million budget in the first three days. It was Vin Diesel's first big hit (unless you count Saving Private Ryan), and unfortunately kept Paul Walker (aka He Who Should Not Be Named) working. The second film opened to $10 million more than the original did two years later. 2 Fast 2 Furious took in $50.5 million in June 2003, but did not have Vin Diesel as part of the cast. The wheels started to fall off the franchise at this point, as it had an opening-to-total multiplier of 2.5, where the original was 3.6. This was more than sequelitis, it was more like audiences abandoning ship due to a bait and switch tactic.
Disaster struck with the third film of the franchise – at least domestically - as all of the former franchise stars got off the boat, and the series moved to Japan. The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift opened to $23 million (or less than half of the second film) against a budget of $85 million. It finished domestically with a losing $62 million, but the diamond in the data was the fact that this one drew $95 million from overseas cinemas. It earned $157 million worldwide, and launched the career of director Justin Lin, who would direct the next two F&F films beyond Tokyo Drift.