Vin Diesel and his crew of car-nappers heisted every moviegoer in sight this Memorial Day holiday. The long weekend was expected to provide a tight race between Furious 6 (called Fast & Furious 6 in the film’s advertising) and the comedy franchise The Hangover Part III. But Universal’s super-vehicle sped away at the first lap and never looked back. Furious 6 won the weekend at North American theaters with $98 million, according to preliminary studio estimates, and expects to cruise across the finish line with $122 million by the end of business today. Official stats for the four-day frame will be issued Tuesday.
[TUESDAY UPDATE: According to the final figures, Furious 6 earned $97.4 million from Friday to Sunday and $117 million for the four-day weekend. The updated numbers appear in the chart below.]
After a parlously weak winter and early spring, the box office has recovered robustly. A record four films — F&F 6, Hangover III, Star Trek Into Darkness and the new animated feature Epic — topped $30 million each for the Fri.–Sun. period. But the other three were smelling the fumes of the latest and biggest in the car-crash series, which has craftily morphed into an international-adventure behemoth à la James Bond and the Ocean’s films. Proving its wide appeal, F&F 6 attracted women (49% of the weekend audience), Hispanics (32%) and audiences of all ages (including 57% older than 25), while snatching a trophy-worthy “A” from the CinemaScore survey of first-nighters. The film, which cost $160 million to produce, ran up these magic numbers without the price jacks of 3-D or IMAX.
(READ: Corliss’s review of Furious 6)
Even more impressively, the franchise has doubled its overseas share of the worldwide gross, from 30% for The Fast and the Furious in 2001 to 66% for Fast Five two years ago. The 2011 film ended up with a global cume of $626.1 million, which F&F6 is sure to better. This weekend, foreign markets kicked in $158 million for the new movie, which has quickly amassed $314 million worldwide, 63% of that abroad. (Compare F&F6′s success with the trouble Star Trek Into Darkness is having as it tries to create a fan base outside North America. Despite energetic marketing, the Trek sequel has so far earned only 41% of its worldwide cash internationally.) Eager to put its champ back on the track, Universal is already shooting a seventh chapter, due in theaters July 2014.
(READ: Corliss’s review of Star Trek Into Darkness)
Some movie skeins, like Fast & Furious, find ways to enlarge and improve; others, like The Hangover, devolve into sour chaos. The question of whether the story of four guys stranded in Vegas ever needed a sequel, let alone two, is answered by the simple phrase: Hollywood greed. Or, as the moguls would say: Mathematics. The 2009 original, which cost a thrifty $35 million to produce, opened to a $44.4 million weekend before grossing $277.3 million at home and $467.5 million worldwide. The 2011 second film, with a budget of $80 million, earned an intoxicating $86 million its first weekend, $254.5 million for the domestic run and $586.8 million globally. Now the Law of Diminishing Returns has dropped like an anvil on Bradley Cooper and his pals. The budget for Hangover III was north of $100 million, yet the picture earned less on its opening weekend ($42.4 million) than the first film did. A frowny-face “B” rating from CinemaScore (the first two Hangovers took “A”s) won’t help, and the movie may be remembered, if at all, as the one with the decapitated giraffe.
(READ: Mary Pols’ review of The Hangover Part III)
Epic, the first major animated feature release since The Croods two months ago, opened to a so-so $34.2 million, but an “A” CinemaScore should help it build audiences in the four weeks the movie has to itself before Pixar’s Monsters University premieres. Five weeks into its mighty run, Iron Man 3 kept on rolling this weekend: the Marvel adventure has earned $1.142 billion globally, for fifth place all-time (in current dollars). The Great Gatsby took sixth place with $13.7 million; Baz Luhrmann’s film has earned $200 million worldwide, and will soon pass the $211 million taken in by the director’s previous top-grosser, Australia.
(SEE: Richard Corliss’s Summer Movie Preview)
Indie films may be minicars to the blockbusters’ muscle cars, but a few of them seemed Diesel-powered this weekend. May has become the hot month to release specialty films with a little heart: Midnight in Paris, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel and Moonrise Kingdom all launched in the weeks leading up to Memorial Day and each eventually earned between $45 million and $56 million. Before Midnight now aims to join that exalted company. The third in the series of every-nine-years romances (after the 1995 Before Sunrise and the 2004 Before Sunset) that director Richard Linklater has made with his stars, Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy, earned $274,000 at five theaters in New York City, Los Angeles and Linklater’s hometown of Austin, Texas, for a kissie-kissie $54,800 per-screen average. If the movie keeps performing at this pace, Linklater will have to make a fourth episode in 2022. Call it Before Medicare?
(READ: Mary Pols’ review of Before Midnight)
Fill the Void, Israel’s Oscar submission last year, opened to an estimated $60,400 on three screens — mazel tov! The holiday was also happy for Frances Ha, directed by Noah Baumbach and featuring indie sweetie Greta Gerwig: it expanded from four to 60 screens in its second week and earned $612,000, good enough for 13th place overall. The Iceman, a true-crime drama starring Michael Shannon, cooled off. Now up to 256 venues, it slipped to $395,000 for a fourth-week total of $1.4 million. And few seemed interested in the life and works of Julian Assange (remember him?). We Steal Secrets: The Story of Wikileaks could purloin only $29,000 at four theaters. Maybe the Furious gang should help the Assange documentary heist more dough.
TUESDAY UPDATE: Here are the actual earnings for this weekend’s top-grossing pictures for the holiday weekend’s first three days (Fri.-Sun.) and full four days (Fri.-Mon.) in North American theaters, as reported by Box Office Mojo:
1. Furious 6, $97.4 million, first three days; $117 million, first four days
2. The Hangover Part III, $41.7 million, three days; $50.3 million, four days; $62.1 million, first five days
3. Star Trek Into Darkness, $37.3 million, three days; $47.2 million, four days; $156 million, second week
4. Epic, $33.5 million, first three days; $42.8 million, first four days
5. Iron Man Three, $19.3 million, three days; $24.7 million, four days; $372.8 million, fourth week
6. The Great Gatsby, $13.5 million, three days; $17 million, four days; $117.7 million, third week
7. Mud, $1.9 million; $2.5 million, three days, four days; $15.1 million, fifth week
8. 42, $1.3 million; $1.7 million, three days, four days; $91.5 million, seventh week
9. The Croods, $1.2 million, three days; $1.6 million, four days; $179.7 million, 10th week
10. Oblivion, $869,990, three days; $1 million, four days; $87.5 million, sixth week