"Furious 7" set box-office records and raced to No. 1 with a massive, $143.6-million domestic opening.
If early estimates hold, the film will mark the biggest debut for the Universal franchise, which has so far racked up more than $2 billion worldwide. It would also become the ninth-biggest debut in box-office history and set a record for an April weekend, surpassing the $95 million grossed by "Captain America: The Winter Soldier" last year.
Fueled by the robust opening of "Furious 7," the overall weekend box office will total roughly $218 million, beating the record of $177.6 million set on 2010's Easter weekend. The box office is up about 31% from the same weekend last year and 6.4% year-to-date.
The latest "Fast and Furious" installment played in 4,004 North American theaters for a per-theater average of $35,870. On IMAX, the film grossed $14 million on 365 screens in the U.S. and Canada for a very strong per-screen average of $38,000.
Overseas, the film made $240.4 million, giving Universal its highest-grossing international weekend by a large margin (not adjusting for inflation). To date, that brings the film's global total to $384 million.
"Looking at the worldwide result is kind of a humbling experience," said Nicholas Carpou, Universal's head of domestic distribution. "People really have a tremendous interest in the latest saga. It's great to watch this franchise develop the way it has so far."
It is the third-highest-grossing international opening of all time, behind "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows: Part 2" ($314-million opening in July 2011) and "Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides" ($260.4-million opening in May 2011).
"There are a lot of franchises that are enjoying international box office success. We happen to be one that's original," Carpou said, noting that the films are not adaptations based off books or rides.
Directed by franchise newcomer James Wan, "Furious 7" film takes the ensemble (including Paul Walker, Vin Diesel, Chris "Ludacris" Bridges, Jason Statham, Dwayne Johnson and Michelle Rodriguez) around the globe from London to Los Angeles, Tokyo, the Dominican Republic and Abu Dhabi and back to Los Angeles.
Dominic Toretto (played by Diesel) and the crew go after Deckard Shaw (Statham) for targeting and killing crew members as revenge for the death of his brother, Owen Shaw.
"Social outreach was huge from the beginning with the first trailer," Carpou said of the film's marketing campaign. "There's no way that people wouldn't know this film was coming and that there was this next huge chapter about to unleash on the world."
But the latest film, which cost $190 million to make, hit some unexpected and very big bumps in the road. The release date was shifted from summer 2014 after franchise star Paul Walker died in a car crash midway through production.
Caleb Walker and Cody Walker, Paul's brothers, were brought in as stand-ins. Computer effects were also used for facial replacement to complete Walker's remaining scenes.
"This movie is more than a movie," Diesel said at the film's Los Angeles premiere last week. "You'll feel it when you see it. There's something emotional that happens to you where you walk out of this movie and you appreciate everyone you love. Because you never know the last day when you are going to see them."
Moviegoers reacted positively to the film, giving it an A grade from audience polling firm CinemaScore. It was warmly reviewed and earned a solid 82% "fresh" rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
Like the cast, the franchise's fervent fan base is very diverse. Moviegoers of all demographics went to theaters in masses to see the installment and pay tribute to the late Walker.
The audience for the action film was largely over the age of 25 (56%). The gender breakdown was fairly even, with male moviegoers making up about 51% of the audience. About 37% was Latino, 25% was white, 24% was African American, 10% Asian and 4% was other.
There were no other newcomers at the box office. But last weekend's No. 1 film, DreamWorks Animation's "Home," dropped 47% to second, adding $27.4 million. The film, released by 20th Century Fox, has made about $95.6 million in the U.S. and Canada to date.
The animated feature follows a teenage girl, Tip, who meets and befriends an alien fugitive, Boov. The two set off on a quest to find Tip's mother. The film's voice cast includes Rihanna, Jim Parsons, Jennifer Lopez and Steve Martin.
Coming in at third, Kevin Hart and Will Ferrell's comedy "Get Hard," which fell 62% from its debut last weekend, added $12.9 million. Its total domestic haul is $57 million to date.
Disney's live action "Cinderella" stayed strong in its fourth weekend at No. 4, adding about $10.3 million. The film has pulled in $167.3 million domestically.
Rounding out the top five, Lionsgate's "The Divergent Series: Insurgent" added $10 million to its box-office total. The dystopian teen film, based on the books by Veronica Roth, has made $103.4 million domestically to date.
Indie horror film "It Follows," took in about $2.5 million after expanding to additional theaters. It landed at No. 6, down 35% from last weekend.
The movie, from Weinstein Co.'s Radius-TWC label and Dimension Films, has benefited from positive word of mouth and a high Rotten Tomatoes "positive" rating of 95%. It has grossed $8.5 million to date.
In limited release, Weinstein Co. debuted "Woman in Gold" in 258 theaters. The film came in at seventh with about $2.1 million, making its per-screen average a solid $7,767.
Also in limited release, A24's dramatic comedy "While We're Young" expanded to 34 theaters from last weekend. The film, which stars Ben Stiller and Naomi Watts, earned $492,976, for a per-theater average of $14,499.
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