“The Fate of the Furious” roars into theaters around the world this week, fueled by audiences’ enduring love for its wiseacre crew of hard-driving speed demons.
That the series is still going strong over 16 years and eight installments is a testament to the filmmakers’ ability to keep finding fresh ways to reinvigorate a franchise that was basically jerry-rigged to exploit muscle car lust. What started as a fairly low-stakes Los Angeles thriller about a gang of street racers stealing electronics equipment has evolved into an escalating, globe-spanning set of adventures involving the theft of nuclear footballs and some James Bond-level action set pieces. Those dinged-up Lamborghinis don’t come cheap. The first film, 2001’s “The Fast and the Furious,” cost $38 million to make, and while Universal isn’t revealing the price tag for the newest installment, sources peg the budget at $250 million.
That’s a lot of Benjamins, but the studio stands to make that back and more in the first few days of “The Fate of the Furious'” release thanks to a massive rollout that will see the picture debut in 63 markets. With a film of this size and scope it can be difficult to accurately gauge just how massive a debut Vin Diesel and company will enjoy, but analysts predict that the film should top $380 million and could even blow past the $400 million mark globally. That would outpace “Furious 7’s” $397.7 million bow. That’s largely because this time the film will be opening in China and Russia, two of the world’s major sources of box office revenue. Last time, those debuts hit later in the release schedule. “The Fate of the Furious” should be received warmly in the Middle Kingdom. The sequel has already set Chinese pre-sales records for tickets and “Furious 7” remains the highest-grossing U.S. made film in the country’s history with $391.3 million.
Don’t look for “The Fate of the Furious” to match “Furious 7’s” domestic haul, however. The film is tracking to open to $100 million and change, a steep drop from the previous entry’s $147.2 million launch. There were extenuating circumstances that turned that “Fast and the Furious” film into such a cultural phenomenon, namely the death of Paul Walker. “Furious 7” became something of a cinematic eulogy for Walker following the actor’s fatal 2013 car crash, offering fans a chance to pay tribute to a man, who, like Diesel, had emerged as the public face of the series. “The Fate of the Furious” retires Walker’s character.
There are some new elements that the producers hope will enliven a franchise now well into its second decade. Charlize Theron has a memorable turn as a hacker villain and Helen Mirren becomes perhaps the first RADA-trained actress to appear in the series. After largely sitting out “Furious 7,” Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson has a more substantial role in this sequel (although his off-screen feud with Diesel led to some unwelcome press). Then there’s F. Gary Gray, who fresh from the box office success of “Straight Outta Compton” slides into the director’s chair, looking to inject a darker tone into a series that’s best known for its gravity-defying car chases.
As for Diesel, ever one to keep expectations low, he has publicly promised that “The Fate of the Furious” will be “the best film you ever saw.” Even if it falls far short of that lofty prediction, it still promises to mint money.