LOS ANGELES (Variety.com) - "The Fate of the Furious" is roaring to a record-setting global debut over the weekend even as domestic audiences showed less enthusiasm for the latest installment in Universal's long-running "Fast and Furious" series.
Final numbers have yet to be released, but based on earlier estimates, the action-thriller is poised to set a new worldwide high-water mark. It is expected to pass the previous record of $529 million set by "Star Wars: The Force Awakens." If that happens, a large part of the credit will to China, where "The Fate of the Furious" has already racked up a massive $135 million in its first two days of release. It is worth noting that Chinese theaters only give studios about 25% of ticket sales, roughly half of what they receive in most major territories.
Domestically, there are indications that a franchise centered on muscle cars and physics-defying stunts, has crested. "The Fate of the Furious" took in an estimated $100.2 million, an impressive result, but a steep drop off from "Furious 7's" $147.2 million kick-off. Heading into the weekend, most analysts expected the film would roar past the $100 million mark, instead of inch over the line.
There are important reasons for the fall off. "Furious 7" served as a memorial of sorts to Paul Walker, the franchise star whose 2013 death in a car accident shattered his co-stars and many fans. This time, there wasn't the same emotional resonance. "The Fate of the Furious" continues the franchise without Walker, adding in series newcomers such as Charlize Theron and Helen Mirren.
Then there was the off-screen drama. This film had to contend with reports of off-screen tension between Vin Diesel and Dwayne Johnson that undermined one of the franchise's key selling points -- that these films are celebrations of family and brotherhood. Both stars steered clear of each other at the picture's New York premiere and Diesel's attempt to brush aside the reports of a beef between the actors left something to be desired.
Reviews were also weaker. IndieWire's David Ehrlich labeled the film the worst of the series, while the Los Angeles Times' Justin Chang argued the franchise had jumped the shark, or in this case, the nuclear submarine. That's not to say there weren't some loud advocates. Variety's Owen Glieberman, for instance, praised the picture as a "dazzling action spectacle." Audiences agreed, handing "The Fate of the Furious" an A CinemaScore.
Beyond Johnson, Diesel, Mirren, and Theron, "The Fate of the Furious" brings back franchise veterans Kurt Russell, Ludacris, Tyrese Gibson, Jason Statham, and Michelle Rodriguez. F. Gary Gray, fresh off the success of "Straight Outta Compton," slid into the director's chair. The film follows the crew as they grapple with Diesel's betrayal and alliance with a mysterious hacker (Theron). Universal didn't provide a budget, but sources peg the cost at $250 million, making it the most expensive chapter in the series. Despite the rising costs, the film remains on pace to top $1 billion worldwide, making more sequels a certainty.
Fox and DreamWorks Animation's "The Boss Baby" was a distant second place, bringing in $15.5 million to push the family film's domestic gross to $116.3 million. Disney's "Beauty and the Beast" nabbed third, taking in $13.6 million to push its stateside haul to a mighty $454.7 million. Globally, the fairy tale remake has soared past the $1 billion mark.
Sony's "Smurfs: The Lost Village" came in fourth with $6.5 million, pushing the animated film's North American total to an anemic $24.7 million. With a $60 million budget, the third Smurfs film will need to resonate strongly with foreign audiences if it wants to make a profit.
New Line's "Going in Style" rounded out the top five, earning $6.3 million. The comedy about a trio of aging bank robbers stars Morgan Freeman, Alan Arkin, and Michael Caine. It has grossed $23.4 million, nearly matching its $24 million production budget.
Most studios steered clear of "The Fate of the Furious," but there were a few brave newcomers opening in limited release. Amazon Studios and Bleecker Street debuted "The Lost City of Z" in four theaters where it picked up $112,633. The film follows an adventurer (Charlie Hunnam) as he plunges deep into the Amazon in search of glory.