By Daniele Antonaglia.
The Fate of the Furious has sped to the top of the global box office earning a record breaking $US532.5 million worldwide in its opening weekend. The eighth instalment in the Fast and Furious franchise raced past the $529 million record set by Star Wars: The Force Awakens in 2015 and soared well above other top global openings from Jurassic World and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2.
Despite this success, the idea that a movie from the Fast and Furious franchise could break records set by the likes of Star Wars and Harry Potter is something that even the most optimistic analysts would have considered impossible when the franchise began 16 years ago. What makes The Fate of the Furious’ opening weekend record truly unique, is the unprecedented level of growth that the franchise has had to achieve over its seven sequels to become the box-office breaking phenomenon it is today.
With humble beginnings in street racing The Fast and the Furious, released in 2001, was inspired by a 1998 Vibe Magazine article documenting the real life racing scene on the streets of New York. Starring Vin Diesel as elite street racer, Dominic Toretto and Paul Walker as the lead-footed undercover cop Brian O’Connor, the movie went on to become a modest success grossing $207 million on a budget of $38 million. Since then, the Fast and Furious franchise has become one of the biggest and most unexpected success stories in Hollywood with its total box office today standing at almost $4.5 billion. Growing with each new addition, every film in the series, with the exception of 2006’s Tokyo Drift, boasts significant global box office growth from its predecessor. In fact, the franchise’s seventh instalment Furious 7 easily out-grossed the total takings of the franchise’s first four films combined.
Whilst the series has always had a strong following in the United States, the performance of its more recent additions, show that its huge success has stemmed from enormous audience growth in markets outside of Hollywood’s homeland. This is clear in the way that 70% of the first film’s total takings came from the United States compared to less than 24% for Furious 7. Exponential growth in foreign markets saw the Fate of the Furious open number one in all of its 63 markets so far, including record openings in 17 of those. Clearly, the franchise has connected strongly with audiences across the globe and this can be put down to its truly diverse cast of multi-ethnic, big name stars. It is no surprise that audiences connect more closely to films when they see themselves being represented and with Latinos, Asians, African Americans and Brits among those at the helm of this franchise, global audiences have become part of the strong family that the films represent.
Diversity has been clear since the title film in 2001, which turned the tables on the traditional Hollywood cast. Set in the multiethnic streets of blue collar Los Angeles, Paul Walker’s Brian O’Connor is the only blue eyed, blonde hair guy in sight. Along with ethnic diversity, it was established early on that the lead women in this franchise were as tough as the men that they stood alongside. Proud Latina Michelle Rodriguez was introduced playing the role of Letty Ortiz, Dom’s girlfriend and a skilled racer herself, who we later learn can throw a serious punch. Along with Dom and his sister Mia, played by Jordana Brewster, we see the emergence of a tight-knit family who are prepared to ride and die for each other and the development of a family code that would become synonymous with the franchise.
Two years later in 2003, 2 Fast 2 Furious saw the addition of another powerful woman to the franchise, in the form of witty Customs Agent Monica Fuentes, played by Eva Mendes. With the addition of another Latina to the series, the film continued to grow strong with Hispanic audiences. While Vin Diesel was absent from this sequel, two series regulars were added, in the characters of computer geek Tej and Brian’s quick mouthed friend Roman Pierce. Portrayed by rappers Ludacris and Tyrese, the cast began to reflect multicultural America. By the time of Furious 7’s release casting decisions like these helped draw diverse opening weekend audiences in the United States with 37% being Hispanic and 24% African American.
Tokyo Drift, saw the franchise take a detour with a whole new cast of characters and had audiences wondering where the movie fit in. Taking a slight dip at the box office, it was not until the seventh that its connection and relevance to the rest of the franchise was truly understood. This film introduced another key member of Dom’s team in the character of Han, played by Sung Kang. Set in Tokyo, this film marked the first of many foreign trips in the franchise and helped further establish the films fan base in Asia.
Over the next few films the franchise expanded from street racing to action heists and 007 type stunts from locations across the globe. From Commandeering a 20 tonne safe through the streets of Rio in Fast 5, to parachuting cars out of planes and driving Bugattis between skyscrapers in Abu Dhabi, the laws of physics became no barrier to the insane stunts the films presented.
The films also saw an impressive line-up of new cast members adding action legends and proven box office draws Dwayne Johnson as DSS Agent Hobbs and Jason Statham as bad guy, Deckard Shaw. The addition of these two to the original cast led to some high testosterone punch ups and made for some thrilling entertainment. A number of other diverse additions were seen in Israeli actress and future wonder woman Gal Gadot, Puerto Rican singers Don Omar and Tego Calderon, Spanish actress Elsa Pataky, Academy Award winner Helen Mirren and Charlize Theron.
With great gains also came a huge loss and at the height of its growing success the franchise found itself at a crossroads after the death of beloved star Paul Walker. The way the loss was addressed in the films and by the cast made it clear that the strong family code promoted on screen was something that they also shared in real life. Underneath the racing and stunts the Fast and Furious has always been a series about the bonds of family and that is something that people from all corners of the globe can relate to.
This franchise has made audiences laugh often and cry unexpectedly. It has taken us places that we could have never imagined when watching Paul Walker eat that first tuna sandwich. Having amassed millions of fans across the globe, the franchise has proven to be a success story like no other.
With two more films slated for release the only question now is, where to next?
For the full box office details of films 1-7 see the infographic below.