With its elevated Good Friday grosses, this weekend usually attracts multiple high-end releases, particularly those aimed at families. Not this year. Rival distributors ceded the ground to Universal’s “The Fate of the Furious,” the eighth entry in their wildly successful road-race franchise. What began in 2001 as a much simpler story about illegal street-car competitions has become a worldwide phenomenon that, by its seventh outing in 2015, grossed $1.5 billion.
“Furious 7” got unexpected traction with the tragic death of lead actor Paul Walker before that film completed production. But the series already had major momentum (2013’s entry opened around $100 million domestic and ended up about $550 million worldwide). But last time, domestic results increased by nearly 50 percent while the world doubled, with international returns to around 70 percent of the totals (and China leading the charge).
Don’t expect that trajectory to continue, but even if domestic results don’t quite match “Furious 7” ($147 million opening, $353 million final gross), “Fate” should equal the 2013 version at home. However, the foreign share could rise to 75 percent-80 percent of domestic, and fall not far short of 2015.
The series has evolved from its initial mid-budget, American-audience emphasis to something that more resembles properties like “Mission: Impossible” and James Bond. All rely on international intrigue, high-end chase sequences, and VFX; the plots are nearly interchangeable.
“Furious” differentiates with the centrality of vehicle chases and its more ensemble (and multi-ethnic) cast, a strategy that allows it to attract international audiences of different backgrounds. The top names from past films who return here include Dwayne Johnson, Vin Diesel, Michelle Rodriguez, Jason Statham, Tyrese Gibson, Ludacris, and Kurt Russell, with Charlize Theron building on her career-transformative “Mad Max: Fury Road” in a key role.
One factor that’s not in favor of “Furious 8”: While box office is up 4 percent over last year, we’ve seen a decline in attendance from the franchise’s target audiences: males 18-34, African-Americans, and Latinos. Still, estimates are in the range of $110 million-$125 million. Worldwide, it could match the “Furious 7” debut of just under $400 million.
Of note: This could quickly top “Get Out” as the biggest-grossing film with an African-American director (F. Gary Gray of “Straight Outta Compton”). It could even edge out Sidney Poitier’s 1980 “Stir Crazy” in actual adjusted records. (Its $101 million domestic gross would be $300 million today.)
Whatever the result, “Fate” will take in way over half of the top 10 returns this weekend. It likely tops the same calendar 2016 weekend (which saw “The Jungle Book” open to $103 million).
“The Boss Baby” (20th Century Fox), already on the verge of $100 million domestic, and “Beauty and the Beast” (Disney) on its way to $500 million (and likely to best “Fate” by far at home), will follow at a distance, each somewhere in the low to mid teens. “Going in Style” (Warner Bros.) bears watching. It has risen to third best since the weekend, and could have a decent hold.
Two second-week limited releases have different levels of expansion. Neon’s “Colossal,” with potential appeal to both art house and younger audiences, will go to about 100 theaters with an interesting mix of dates that will provide clues to its potential. “Gifted” (Fox Searchlight) goes to over 1,000 dates. The Chris Evans-Octavia Spencer starrer about an uncle fighting for his prodigy niece is clearly meant as more general-audience counter programming to “Fate.” Open Road is opening the Canadian animated film “Spark: A Space Tale” in 350 theaters.
Several limited new released have received strong advance reviews. The likely top grosser looks to be “The Lost City of Z” (Bleecker Street/Amazon), the first film from indie veteran James Gray since “The Immigrant.” Based on a non-fiction bestseller, it recounts a 1920s Amazon expedition with Charlie Hunnam and Robert Pattinson as its leads.
Other limited openers with strong reviews after prime festival showings include:
- “Norman: The Moderate Rise and Tragic Fall of a New York Fixer” (Sony Pictures Classics), with Richard Gere getting some of the best reviews of his career
- “A Quiet Passion” (Music Box), Terence Davies’ latest, with Cynthia Nixon as Emily Dickinson
- “My Entire High School Sinking Into the Sea” (GKids), an American-made animated film about student journalists uncovering earthquake risks at their high school
- “Heal the Living” (Cohen), a French film that interweaves three stories connected by a surfing accident, which has received excellent reviews
- “Mimosas” (Grasshopper), set in Morocco, where a sheikh hopes to be buried in his native village; it won the top prize in the 2016 Cannes Critics Week
- “Glory” (Film Movement), a Bulgarian comedy about a train worker whose life goes awry when he does the right thing after finding missing money
- “Tommy’s Honour” (Roadside Attractions), Jason (son of Sean) Connery’s biopic about Tom and Tommy Morris, the father/son Scottish pair who transformed golf into a major sport
Documentary openings include “Finding Oscar” (FilmRise), “Chasing Trane: The John Coltrane Documentary” (Abramorama), and “Jeremiah Tower” (The Orchard).