As we watch the Comcast tower shoot up in Center City, a question arises: Is Vin Diesel building it?
Certainly he’s been a big help. His Fate of the Furious (a.k.a. Fast And Furious 8) made $100 million in North America over the weekend, confirming that the series is a strong as ever — although it's box office is down domestically from the previous film, the highest-grossing of the bunch (it raked in $1 billion on its own).
Estimates are Fate should fare though thanks in part to the rest of the world. The movie already made more than $430 million overseas, a record for the biggest global debut ever. That means the Comcast/Universal franchise this year will likely push past $5 billion, cementing its unique status among blockbusters.
Take the highest-grossing movie series of all time, factor out science fiction and fantasy (Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, the Marvel movies, the Sony Spider-Man, Harry Potter), and Fast and Furious stands as the highest-grossing original franchise ever. (It trails the James Bond films, but those are based on the Ian Fleming novels.)
The Fast and Furious is an original concept, cooked up by writer David Ayer to reflect the hip-hop/car culture of his native South Central (you know him now as the director of Suicide Squad). And yet the series began to thrive commercially, as I noted in my reviews, only after making significant changes — adding international stars, for instance, and dropping the emphasis on car culture in favor of standard action.
This is confirmed by an amusing statistical analysis put together by Bloomberg, which has actually measured — down to the second — how much screen time each movie devotes to such things as car-racing, fights, gunplay, displays of male biceps and womens’ rear ends, and use of profanity.
Among the findings:
- As the series has evolved, there is more action, but less racing. Racing scenes — where there's starting and finishing lines and it's one driver pitted against another — accounted for more than an hour of screen time in 2 Fast 2 Furious and Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift (the third iteration in the series). By Fast & Furious 6 and Furious 7 that had dropped to an average of 44 minutes. Your classic, Bullitt-style chase scene, on the other hand, have averaged about 30 minutes in Fast & Furious 6 and Furious 7, double and triple the early movies.
- Time spent wielding guns has risen steadily and dramatically — less than three minutes in Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift (handguns are heavily regulated in Japan, where the movie was shot) to a full half an hour in Furious 7. Explosions are way up — just nine in the first four movies, 27 in Furious 7 alone. Hand-to-hand combat averaged about two minutes in the first five movies, and has steadily climbed to more than seven minutes in Furious 7.
- Furious fans like their movies long. The grosses began to shoot up dramatically in 2011 (when Comcast bought Universal) with Fast Five, the first to cross the two-hour mark. Furious 7 was a long-winded two hours and 17 minutes, and is the most successful yet. Fate of the Furious is slightly more succinct, but still runs two hours and 15 minutes.
- As cursing has dropped, revenue has increased. The series hit peak profanity in 2 Fast 2 Furious with 42 swear words, began to decline with Fast & Furious (the fourt installment in the series), and has now dipped below 20, though figures for Fate of the Furious are still to be tallied.
- The more the movies mention the words family and team, the more money they usually make. In the worst-performing sequel (Tokyo Drift) there were just two mentions of family, and no mention of team. The sixth and seventh installments average 10 mentions of both, and it’s a dominant theme in Fate of the Furious. The number of hugs, incidentally, peaked in Fast Five with 13.
- Time showing male biceps peaked in 2 Fast 2 Furious at 23 minutes, and has averaged just 8 minutes per film in the last three outings. What Bloomberg describes as “gratuitous female rear-end time” has been bottoming out since its one-minute, 13-second peak in Fast Five (set in Brazil, of course). Such content accounted for just 37 seconds in the high-grossing Furious 7.
Some fans may be bummed, but the franchise has proved you don’t have to be cheeky to make money.