Universal pic makes box office history

Universal’s “Fast and Furious” tore past naysayers and critics to score the biggest domestic opening since “The Dark Knight,” grossing $72.5 million from 3,461 runs largely on the strength of Hispanic moviegoers and younger men.

Propelling the once-faltering franchise to new heights, opening was the best in U’s history, as well as the biggest in April ever.

Overseas, the Vin Diesel-Paul Walker starrer rolled out in its first 32 territories, grossing $30.1 million from 3,158 runs for a worldwide tally of $102.6 million.

That wasn’t quite good enough to overtake DreamWorks Animation/Paramount 3-D toon “Monsters vs. Aliens,” which won the weekend crown at the international B.O. Playing in far more locations, family pic grossed $34.2 million from 6,991 in 43 markets for a foreign cume of $47.7 million.

In North America, “Monsters” fell 44% in its second weekend to $33.5 million from 4,109 screens; 10-day cume is $105.7 million. Buoyed by the premium charge for 3-D tickets, worldwide haul is $153.4 million.

Domestic box office was up an astounding 75%-80% over the same weekend last year. Frame’s only other wide entry was Miramax’s “Adventureland,” which opened to an estimated $6 million from 1,862, in line with expectations. Dramedy was directed by Greg Mottola (“Superbad”).

Even the specialty box office made noise. Overture’s “Sunshine Cleaning” grossed $1.9 million from only 479 runs to come in No. 10 in its fourth sesh, propelled by good word of mouth. Pic was produced by Big Beach; cume is a hearty $4.8 million.

The opening for “Fast and Furious,” produced for $85 million, is a substantial victory for Universal and co-financing partner Relativity Media. Many had questioned U’s decision to jumpstart the franchise and make a fourth installment considering the lackluster performance of three-quel “The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift,” which opened to just $23.9 million.

It’s also a victory for filmmaker Justin Lin, who directed both the fourth “Fast” and the previous entry, “Tokyo Drift.”

Reteaming Diesel, Walker, Michelle Rodriguez and Jordana Brewster for the first time since the original “The Fast and the Furious” was the magic elixir — despite withering reviews. Film easily outperformed the domestic openings of any of the first three. Previous best was the $50.5 million for “2 Fast 2 Furious”; most thought “Fast 4″ wouldn’t get to that number.

U prexy of distribution Nikki Rocco also credited a winning marketing campaign — defined by the slogan “New model, original parts” — and the decision to open the pic in April instead of summer, when the roadway is far more crowded. The three previous films all opened in June.

“It shows that great films can open all times of the year,” Rocco said.

The demographic makeup of the audience could help to explain why box office pundits, and even U, were low in their predictions.

Some 46% of the audience was Hispanic, a demo that doesn’t necessarily show up in tracking; 28% were Caucasian; 16% were African-American; and 8% Asian (2% were listed as “other”).

The first three titles likewise appealed heavily to Hispanic moviegoers, according to Neil Moritz, who produced all four films. “Fast 4″ opens in the Dominican Republic, where Diesel’s character is hiding out. Rodriquez and Brewster are both Latina, and other Hispanic thesps have prominent roles as well.

With Hispanic auds making up the fastest-growing segment of the moviegoing public, U found a sweet spot.

“This is a market Hollywood is always trying to crack. But if you pander to this market, they know it and aren’t likely to come. It’s mainstream movies they want,” one studio distribution exec said.

“Fast 4’s” opening also points to the pent-up demand for a pure action title among younger men and teenage boys in general. Some 57% of the aud was male, while nearly 60% was under age 25.

Twentieth Century Fox’s sleeper box office hit “Taken” hinted at this demand in outperforming expectations earlier this year, although that film skewed older.

That demand extends to the international box office as well. Pic opened No. 1 in almost every one of the 32 territories where it launched, led by a $6.2 million bow in Germany, where it captured 40% of the market. Spain opened at $3.6 million. Film also prospered in Latin America, grossing $4 million in its launch in Mexico and $2.1 million in Brazil.

Pic has many major markets still to go, including the U.K., France and Russia, where it opens next weekend.

“It’s been a long time since we had a flat-out, under-100-minutes movie that was pure adrenaline and pure fun,” Universal international prexy David Kosse said.

Like the domestic box office, the international B.O. saw a surge in traffic over the weekend, buoyed by kids starting spring vacations.

“Monsters” launched in most major markets, one week after its domestic debut. Toon saw its top numbers in the U.K. ($6.5 million, including $2.5 million in previews), Mexico ($3.2 million), Australia and Spain ($2.9 million each), Italy ($2.6 million), France ($2.1 million) and Germany ($1.5 million).

Paramount noted that the 3-D locations did 2½ times the business that conventional theaters did. Per-location average for the 179 3-D screens in the U.K. was $17,000 vs. $7,000 for 2-D runs.

Summit Entertainment holdover “Knowing” continued to do good business in its third weekend. In North America, the sci-fi disaster title fell 45% to an estimated $8.1 million from 3,323 runs for a domestic cume of $58.2 million. Overseas, it grossed $8.6 million at 2,325 in 15 markets for a worldwide tally of $82.2 million. Film is still early in its run abroad.

Elsewhere at the foreign box office, Fox’s “Marley and Me” continues to bark happily overseas, grossing $6.7 million for the weekend from 3,000 playdates for a foreign cume of $83.2 million, far ahead of expectations. Warner Bros.’ “Gran Torino” was right behind, grossing $5.5 million from 2,500 for an international total of $81.5 million.

Warner Bros., Legendary Pictures and Paramount’s “Watchmen” continued to fade away. Pic grossed $1.8 million at 2,112 in 50 markets overseas for an international cume of $71.7 million. Domestically, pic fell off the top 10 chart in its fifth sesh, grossing $1.1 million from 1,104 runs; domestic cume is $105.4 million. Worldwide tally is $171.1 million, well short of expectations.

On the specialty side, “Sunshine Cleaning” wasn’t the only indie title seeing action. Truly Indie’s biopic “Valentino: The Last Emperor” scored a per-location average of $14,406 in its third weekend, grossing $57,625 from four runs for a cume of $177,022.

Among openers, Sony Pictures Classics’ “Paris 36″ posted a per-location average of $10,311 as it grossed $72,174 from seven runs. First Independent’s laffer “Gigantic” scored $10,500 as it opened in one theater. SPC’s “Sugar” grossed $71,187 from 11 runs for a per-location average of $6,472. Regent Releasing’s “The Song of Sparrows” grossed $9,287 as it opened in one theater.

In its second sesh, Roadside Attractions’ “Goodbye Solo” grossed $32,785 from five runs for a per-location average of $6,557 and cume of $83,258.

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