Why ‘Fast & Furious’ is bigger than Bond and Star Wars

Did I imagine that, with $532 million, the picture just edged ahead of Star Wars: The Force Awakens’ debut? – a little thing called Fast and Furious 7. The first film, released in 2001, did very nicely indeed without threatening the launch of any new empires. The seventh part (its box office, admittedly, boosted by the sad death of star Paul Walker) took $1.5 billion on its way to becoming the sixth highest-grossing film of all time. I did not. This year’s Resident Evil: The Final Chapter – another big hit in China – took an eye-watering 91 per cent abroad. What? The Force Awakens may be the biggest film ever in the US, but it was nowhere near being even the biggest 2015 release in China. “The Fate of the Furious’ $100.2 million launch is a far cry from Furious 7’s $147.2 million bow. US comedies very definitely do not. You may as well invite Star Wars to “eye the exit ramp”. FF8 got halfway to $1 billion in just three days. The supposedly all-conquering Star Wars: The Force Awakens grabbed just 54 -per cent out here in non-America. It’s currently bigger than James Bond and he’s been around for 50 years. The most successful US film of that year was – wait for it, wait for it! Is it possible that the US trade papers have still to get their heads around the international nature of the box-office business? Here’s the statistic that really matters. Fast & Furious 7 grabbed $430 million. Get used to it. Others fared very well indeed. But this is still akin to suggesting that the last Ed Sheeran album was a failure because only eight places in the top 10 were occupied by songs culled from its grooves (or wherever songs are housed these days). Some sequels fared well. That title went to a domestic action-comedy Monster Hunt. But astonishingly, a large part of the argument was economic. Hang on. The “overseas” opening (that’s to say everywhere apart from the US and Canada) is an astonishing 36 per cent ahead of its closest historical rival. Its final total will probably not reach that of its predecessor. The domestic figures are a near irrelevancy when attempting to assess the new film’s overall financial accomplishments. In 2014, Guardians of the Galaxy accumulated 56 per cent of its takings outside North America. “Here’s the thing, domestically, at least, the “Fast and Furious” series appears to be tapering off,” Variety half explained. This weekend, Variety ran an article under the headline “Why Vin Diesel and the Fast and the Furious Franchise Should Eye the Exit Ramp.” There was some talk about how the stories had got a bit stale. Didn’t Fast & Furious 8 (“The Fate of the Furious” in the US) just clock up the highest-grossing opening weekend in the medium’s history? Fast & Furious 8 was the number one film in each of the more than 60 territories where it opened. By way of contrast, Part 8 is merely the 38th largest first-weekend haul ever in the United States. Then, around about episode five, the franchise went ballistic. A most unusual path
The Fast and Furious franchise has vroomed down a most unusual path. It is worth pointing out – as the article goes on to do – that Universal receives about half as much from a dollar earned in China as it does from a dollar earned in the US. You can argue about the effects of inflation all you like, but that remains a stunning result. It’s hard to say exactly what plays disproportionately well overseas. US comedies very definitely do not

Given this extraordinary performance, we might reasonably have expected the new film to take a good deal less. Old-school butch movie stars go down well. The franchise will outlive many of us. Jurassic World took $316 million two years ago. In two weeks we will get a film – Guardians of the Galaxy Volume Two – that, if previous performance is any guide, skews well towards the former class. Old-school butch movie stars go down well. It’s hard to say exactly what plays disproportionately well overseas. Both Star Trek and Star Wars perform poorly in relative terms. But even the Reagan White House would have struggled with the voodoo economics required to frame this week’s figures as the beginning of the end. It’s the first time that a Fast and Furious film hasn’t improved on the opening of its predecessor since 2006’s Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift.”

Tyrese Gibson, Ludacris, Scott Eastwood, Dwayne Johnson, Nathalie Emmanuel and Michelle Rodriguez in Fast and Furious 8

Sorry? (Though the numbers involved with the latter are so enormous it hardly matters.)

Almost nothing does so well as entities that are both Fast and Furious. Furious 7 managed 76 per cent in “rest of world”. Its $190 million haul in China is the biggest ever for an overseas project. The big Hollywood blockbusters now play on a spectrum from outright homers to overseas specialists.