By Todd Cunningham
LOS ANGELES (TheWrap.com) - Vin Diesel's sci-fi action film "Riddick" hits theaters nationwide Friday, and make no mistake — this is his movie.
It will be No 1 - it's the week's only wide release and is projected to come in north of $20 million - and has his imprint all over it.
Diesel secured the rights from Universal (in exchange for a cameo in "Fast and Furious"), sought out the financing to get the film made and dominates the screen as the intergalactic alien anti-hero with the see-in-the-dark peepers.
On top of that, he's doing a heck of a job of marketing it on Facebook, where he's been pushing "Riddick" for months to his more than 46 million followers. That's about as built-in a fan base as you could hope for.
"I don't know that there's any actor out there doing what he is in that space," said Boxoffice.com editor-in-chief Phil Contrino. " I think it was directly responsible for getting ‘Riddick' made, in that it enabled to show potential backers that there was real and solid support for the project.
"And I think it had a lot do with making the ‘Fast & Furious' movies as strong as they've been, too," Contrino said. "He's really good at it, and by directly interacting with fans on these movies it makes them feel as if they have a stake in their success, so of course they're going to go see them."
The critics are lukewarm on the R-rated space odyssey, which has a middling 63 percent positive rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
But it doesn't take night vision to see that if 6 percent of Diesel's 46 million Facebook fans turn out for "Riddick" in its first weekend - at about $8 a pop - it should wind up with around $23 million.
The studio is more conservative with its estimate, and has it in roughly 2,800 theaters.
"Riddick" is the third film in the futuristic series that began with "Pitch Black" back in 2000. Written and directed by David Twohy and produced by Ted Field, it proved a breakout role for the then-36-year-old Diesel. Made for $23 million, it took in $39 million domestically for Universal before going on to a very healthy after-life on DVD.
Buoyed by that success, the studio bet big - as in a $105 million production budget — on the second film, 2004's "The Chronicles of Riddick." But it was a disappointment at the box office, topping out at $58 million domestically and $115 million worldwide.
Diesel was determined to make a third film about the ex-con survivor of the planet Furya, but Universal wasn't interested. They did want him for the "Fast and Furious" movies however, and asked him to do a cameo in its third installment, "Tokyo Drift." He agreed, on the condition that he could have the rights to the Riddick character.
With those in hand, he and Twohy set out to finance it independently and did, primarily through selling off foreign rights. When they came back to the U.S. looking for a distribution partner, Universal decided they wanted to get back in the business with the star that had done so much for the cops-and-criminals franchise.
The studio only has U.S. rights. The foreign returns - which should be significant since the "Fast" franchise has made Diesel far more well-known internationally since the first two Riddick films - will be split among a number of distributors.