It’s hard to fully comprehend the feat that Vin Diesel and The Rock just accomplished. A pair of walking, talking, winking, completely bald, six foot tall human biceps, they have put a middling relic of a franchise about cars (no, not aliens pretending to be cars, a la Transformers, but just cars) on their backs and carried it to the top tier of Hollywood.
Buckle up for this: in a three day opening weekend, Fast and Furious 6 has nabbed $98.3 million. And in a four day Memorial Day Weekend, it made $122 million. And that’s just in the United States; worldwide, it’s taken in $275 million worldwide.That is absolutely bonkers, and here’s why.
Fast has outlasted video game, comic book and tons of YA adaptations, and put movies out on a consistent basis, unlike nostalgia-fueled flicks like the Rocky franchise. Really, its only true peer is none other than the Harry Potter saga.
Also launched in 2001, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone was an instant smash, earning nearly $1 billion worldwide. That far dwarves The Fast and the Furious’s $207 million, and really, none of the numbers over the years are very comparable. But it has skyrocketed in profitability over the years, and so Fast is right on par with Harry Potter, start to finish, a product of organic growth and its own pure iron will.
You may not realize it, but there are lots of thematic and character similarities here (see: The Hero With a Thousand Faces). First off, we have the noble protagonist, born into cruel and unfair conditions, with a difficult family history. Dominic Toretto, meet Harry Potter.
For the plucky best friend and his love interest, we have a little bit of a twist. In the first film, Paul Walker’s Brian O’Conner was the cop, a good guy but also an antagonist since everyone loves anti-hero Dom. They’d end up being best friends, and Brian fell in love with his BFF’s little sister (Jordana Brewster), while Dom was devoted to the strong-willed, no-bullshit female lead Letty (Michelle Rodriguez).
Basically, it means that Dom and Brian swapped archetype ladies with Harry and Ron Weasley, since Mr. Lightning Forehead was the one romancing the little sister (Ginny) and Freckles ended up with the leading lady (Hermione).
There is also the powerful antagonist-turned-ally (The Rock is more or less Snape) and even an all-controlling baddie (Luke Evans and He Who Must Not Be Named) whose schemes are always one step ahead.
There’s no real Dumbledore, but let’s just give Ludacris that role, since they’re both sarcastic and also really good with coming up with last minute technical magic.
Harry Potter is filled with quirky humor and earnest drama, but the Fast franchise is something different entirely. It is absolutely not a parody, but it pulls off the impressive feat of being entirely self-aware of its unintentional hilarity. And it’s filled with obvious one liners, sentimental cliches, applause line punches and hang times only possible on the moon. And they all work.
Of course, other series have made more money, but even those ended before six films or were rebooted — see Spider-Man and Transformers for starters. Their trajectories are really entirely opposite of what Fast has accomplished.
The street racing series should have died after it dipped to a low of $158 million worldwide for its third edition, the almost entirely disconnected Tokyo Drift. That was director Justin Lin’s first film, and while it was a pretty big failure, it did lead to the series’ saving grace: the return of the Diesel, who made a small cameo in Tokyo Drift. When he returned for the fourth film, things went bananas, and the article-slaying Fast and Furious made $363 million worldwide.
In 2011, The Rock joined the party, as his antagonist cop, and the Brahma Bull was accompanied by all of the series’ various stars, reuniting “The Team.” That flick made a baller $626 million, including $86 million domestic in its opening weekend.
So here we are, watching Fast 6 zoom past all previous franchise records, and into almost uncharted territory. You might say Marvel’s films have reached that level, with The Avengers a $1.5 billion success and Iron Man 3 on pace to reach that too, but those are really separate franchises.
So what’s the secret? Well, at least a good chunk can be attributed to this piece of fan art depicting Vin Diesel as the Mona Lisa. Seriously, though; the guy has 41 million fans on Facebook, and if you don’t think they’re hardcore, look at some of the photos in that link. During a screening of Fast 6 in Times Square on Saturday, the audience not only cheered when he came on the screen in the film, they even gave a roar to a trailer for his next film, a Riddick sequel.
There’s also the major populist appeal of the rest of the cast. Whereas most of big budget, studio movies are white washes, and dominated by men, the Fast films feature stars from across the spectrum: white, black, Latino, Asian, Hawaiian and very prominently show off women that can kick ass (seriously, Gina Carano!). That ups the international appeal, as well as taps the growing markets within the United States. That’s no accident, either.
Oh, and by the way: a seventh film is coming next year, with an even BIGGER star as the villain.
Meanwhile, the story is much sadder for another so-called “male driven” franchise that debuted this weekend.
The Hangover should have probably just stayed in bed.
You can’t blame them for trying to milk the adventures of Phil, Stu and Alan for more cash, though; though it was derivative and panned by critics, 2011’s first sequel to the hilarious Vegas nightmare grossed $586 million around the world, seemingly making it opinion-proof.
Audiences wouldn’t fall for the ruse this time; The Hangover Part III earned only $26 million in three days, compared to the $60 million of Part II. It opened big on Wednesday night, and the thought was that it could make up to $80 million in its five day opening period — still way lower than the $135 million of the first sequel — but is now projected to make maybe $48 million instead. Oof.
Though it doesn’t actually feature a hangover or follow the plot of slowly uncovering the increasingly insane disasters of a bachelor party gone wrong, the movie returned Bradley Cooper, Zach Galifianakis and Ed Helms and returned to its original stomping ground of Sin City.
Ken Jeong’s Mr. Chow got a bigger role in this one, while Justin Bartha got screwed once again. They added John Goodman and Melissa McCarthy, but brutal reviews — seriously, even worse than last time — made sure that what happened in Vegas stayed in Vegas.
The other big opener, animated film Epic, which features a cadre of stars voicing animals including Aziz Ansari as a slug named Mub, and Amanda Seyfried as the leading heroine, is projected to make $42 million, which isn’t shabby at all.
Holdover Star Trek Into Darkness is projected to take in $50 million over the four day weekend, a decent second weekend for the semi-disappointing domestic performer.