To get an idea of what Vin Diesel’s “Fast Five” pulled off this weekend, consider this: In the three days just passed, the action movie took in about $140 million around the world — more than 2010 award-season hit “The Fighter” and nearly as much as fall blockbuster “The Town” grossed over their lifetimes.
At first glance, this may not seem like that huge a deal: The Diesel-Paul Walker picture is just one more commercial offering with big explosions that drew us to theaters, as so many have done before. But in reversing the box-office slump this weekend (with $83.6 million tallied in the U.S. alone), “Fast Five” subverted a number of Hollywood assumptions about how and why we go to movies. Here’s a rundown:
Traditional action and heist movies only hold so much appeal. Sure, “The Expendables” got us a little excited last summer. But when it comes to commercial filmmaking, it’s vampires, comic books and cartoons that pack ‘em in these days. Dominic Toretto shows us otherwise.
Franchises lose steam after their third installment. Hollywood thinks in threes for a reason. With few exceptions, most movies run out of gas after their third edition. Not this time. “Fast & Furious,” the fourth movie in the franchise, nearly tripled the opening-weekend number of the third picture when it opened to $71 million two years ago. “Fast Five” did it $13 million better.
New directors can’t turbocharge a flagging franchise. Justin Lin was actually the third director on the Universal series, after Rob Cohen (“The Fast & the Furious”) and John Singleton (“2 Fast 2 Furious”). And Lin, as a purveyor of mainly little-seen Sundance movies, is not a terribly well-known director at that. Lin went on to revive not only the “Fast” franchise but also his own career — he’s set to direct “Terminator 5” as well.
Hit franchises must bring out the stars. Most successful properties come with A-listers; think “Pirates” and Depp, “Bourne” and Damon, “Iron Man” and Downey. But “Fast & Furious” has had a revolving door of actors, and they’re hardly top names. Yet it hasn’t hurt one bit. What has helped, at least this weekend: a racially diverse cast that includes Diesel, Ludacris, Tyrese Gibson, Gal Gadot, Sung Kang and Tego Calderon.
Don’t mess with a title. Add Tokyo, take away Tokyo. Use numbers, don’t use numbers. They’re furious, they’re not furious. The speedster franchise keeps changing its name, but that doesn’t seem to hurt it at all.
Don’t change genres after you’ve established a brand. “Fast & Furious” began as a street-racing vehicle. The fifth movie retained the chases but added a significant heist element.
People aren’t going to movies as much as they used to. Coming into this weekend, 2011 had been a slack year for filmgoing. The biggest opener didn’t even make it to $40 million. The question now is whether “Fast Five” is an exception or a trendsetter.
Sci-Fi Author Ursula LeGuin's Stories of Class War, Religious Dissension, Identity Politics and More