‘Furious 7’ Races Toward Record Opening at Box Office

Furious 7” is barreling toward a record opening weekend, with tracking services predicting that the adventure film could debut to as much as $115 million.

The Universal sequel doesn’t premiere until April 3, but it seems to be benefiting from a number of factors — chief among them a lack of big-budget action films pegged at male audiences and the fact that “Furious 7” is Paul Walker’s last completed film before his 2014 death in a car crash.

“It’s going to blow up really big,” said Phil Contrino, VP and chief analyst with BoxOffice.com. “It’s similar to what we saw from ‘American Sniper’ and ‘Guardians of the Galaxy.’ Everybody wants to talk about the film and be able to discuss the ending and how they handled the Paul Walker situation.”

Walker’s death has generated the lion’s share of the headlines, and the film has turned into a memorial to his talent much as “The Dark Knight” allowed fans to pay tribute to Heath Ledger.

However, the film is also benefiting from recent action whiffs such as “Run All Night” and “The Gunman.” Female audiences have driven recent box office hits such as “Cinderella” and “Fifty Shades of Grey,” but with the exception of “Kingsman: The Secret Service,” little has resonated with male crowds. That should change with “Furious 7.”

If “Furious 7” hits estimates, it will easily be the top April debut of all time, trumping “Captain America: The Winter Soldier’s” $95 million bow, and a franchise-high, outgrossing “Fast & Furious 6’s” $97.4 million opening. Eric Handler, an analyst with MKM Partners, predicts the film could do $250 million domestically by the time it ends its run.

“It’s the first big blockbuster of the year, and it’s an established franchise,” said Handler, who noted that “Furious 7” has little competition until “The Avengers: Age of Ultron” debuts on May 1.

Ticket pre-sales have been robust, with Fandango reporting that “Furious 7” is outpacing the sixth “Fast & Furious” film at a similar point in its sales cycle, and MovieTickets.com saying the new film’s reservations are three times that of its predecessor. Some movie chains, such as Cinépolis, are already close to selling out prime weekend showtimes and expect to add extra screenings to meet demand.

“Moviegoers have grown up with the storyline and characters, so seeing the film is more than just another movie in a series,” said April Mendoza, marketing director of Cinépolis USA. “It’s about reliving your youth, seeing your heroes continue to succeed and saying goodbye to a beloved character and actor who you respected and loved.”

Others, such as B&B Theatres, fully expect to be at capacity when the film debuts given the reception given previous movies in the series.

“‘Fast & Furious’ has always been huge in our markets,” said Brock Bagby, director of programming and business development at B&B Theatres. “It’s always played better than even the national grosses would suggest. In smaller markets and in smaller towns, it’s bigger than the ‘Avengers’ or comic book movies.”

“Furious 7” cast members such as Ludacris and Vin Diesel have large social-media followings, which seem to be galvanizing fans on Facebook and Twitter. Tracking services report that online chatter around the film is intense, and the reactions to trailers and promotions have been largely positive.

“At this point in a series you’d expect some franchise fatigue, but that’s minimal,” said Jen Handley, co-creator of the social-media research firm Fizziology. “We’re seeing lots of excitement and lots of mentions of the release date. That level of specificity is important because it indicates intent to see.”

The volume of discussion surrounding the film is about 40% higher than it was for “Fast & Furious 6,” Fizziology reports, and many of the comments are emotional reactions related to Walker’s death. It also found that the film is tracking well with African-American and Hispanic crowds and is more appealing to women than most action films.

The diversity of the series, something reflected in the films’ multicultural cast, mirrors the audience it attracts, theater owners report.

“It has an interest across a wide range of people,” said Tom Stephenson, CEO of Look Cinemas. “It’s appealing pretty broadly. There’s a lot of built-up anticipation.”

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