LOS ANGELES – Furious 7 raced to the top of the domestic box office, picking up a massive $143.6 million (M1.56 billion) in its opening weekend.
That establishes a new high-water mark for the month of April, blowing past the $95 million debut of Captain America: The Winter Soldier, and stands as the highest-grossing kick-off for any film in the Fast and Furious franchise. It also ranks ninth among the top ten openings in history.
Much as The Dark Knight turned into a memorial for Heath Ledger, audiences flocked to see star Paul Walker in one of his final roles. The actor died in a 2013 car crash at the age of 40 and his work on the film was completed using digital technology and a series of stand-ins.
“This is a bittersweet installment in the franchise,” said Phil Contrino, vice president and chief analyst at BoxOffice.com. “(Walker’s) passing made this movie more intriguing for people who hadn’t seen some of the instalments. It raised awareness and its success is a tribute to him.”
Universal Pictures spared no expense in bringing the latest chapter in the fast cars and gravity-defying-stunts series to the big screen, shelling out $190 million on the production. It unspooled in 4,003 North American theatres, earning $14 million on 365 Imax screens and $11.5 million from premium large format screens. Going into the weekend, most analysts estimated that the film would open in the $115 million range.
Foreign numbers were steroidal. Internationally, the film rolled out across 10,500 screens in 63 territories, earning $240.4 million.
“This is the next member of the billion dollar club and that’s a rarefied place to be,” said Contrino. “This thing is on fire.”
With an A CinemaScore and strong reviews, Furious 7 could be one of the few modern blockbusters that hangs on for more than a few weeks. The month of April is lean on blockbuster fare and Furious 7 won’t get serious competition until The Avengers: Age of Ultron debuts on 1 May. – Variety