"Fast & the Furious 6" is off to a roaring start at the box office, earning $6.5 million in late night shows on Thursday in what is shaping up to be one of the biggest Memorial Day weekends in movie history.
That figure is a franchise best and easily tops the $3.8 million that "Fast Five," the previous installment in the cars and criminals series, earned two years ago in its midnight showings.
It is also more than double the $3.1 million that "The Hangover Part III" earned in late night screenings this week.
The two sequels are squaring off against each other in a fiercely competitive weekend at the multiplexes. Fox's animated "Epic" will also debut over the weekend and "Star Trek Into Darkness" and "Iron Man 3" are expected to continue drawing crowds.
Despite the plethora of entertainment options, box office analysts project "Fast & Furious 6" will cross the finish line in first place, drawing a weekend haul of $80 million or more. "The Hangover Part III" is projected to generate $75 million over the long weekend.
As a sign of how intense the fight for ticketbuyers could grow over the holiday, Fandango reports that this weekend is on track to be its biggest Memorial Day weekend ever in terms of ticket sales. Its previous best was in 2011 when "The Hangover Part II" went head to head with "Kung Fu Panda 2."
Fandango also reports that "Fast & the Furious 6" is currently selling 53 percent more tickets than "The Hangover Part III."
Universal Pictures will expand "Fast & the Furious 6" to 3,659 theaters domestically, a tick higher than the 3,555 theaters nationwide that will be screening "The Hangover Part III."
Universal is also casting its gaze abroad in search of profits. The studio is rolling out in "Fast & the Furious 6" several international markets on Friday, including 62 Imax theaters in 21 territories.
"Fast and Furious 6" brings back Vin Diesel, Paul Walker and Dwayne Johnson along with director Justin Lin, who has overseen four of the franchise's films. It also revives fan-favorite Michelle Rodriguez, who was killed off in an earlier segment.