Universal’s eighth Fast and Furious film hit cinemas worldwide this Easter weekend, and it was a box office triumph few saw coming. The film, helmed by Straight Outta Compton’s F. Gary Gray (who becomes the most successful black director of a film ever), took a solid $100.2m in the US, but it was overseas that it truly stunned: F8 earned $432.3m in international territories (led by $190m in China — the biggest weekend in that country’s history). This beats the global record set by Star Wars: The Force Awakens 16 months ago; that film had a $529m opening weekend.
So, as we always ask when a film hits or misses in such a big way, what can Hollywood learn from F8’s success? In the age of streaming, prestige television and general apathy to the cinema experience, what was it that lured moviegoers out in their thousands to see the EIGHTH film in a franchise that launched with a $40m opening weekend in Summer 2001?
Pandering Isn’t Necessary
Michael Bay’s Transformers: Age of Extinction took its action to China, shooting in various local locations and featuring several Chinese stars to ensure massive success in the emerging market. Avengers: Age of Ultron did much the same a year later. The recently-released The Great Wall, starring Matt Damon, is a whole other story. But F8 managed to outperform all those (inferior) films across Asian markets, without a single frame shot in Asia nor any significant Asian characters. Apparently, Hollywood, moviegoers in these countries aren’t only motivated by seeing themselves on screen! Maybe they just want to see a fun, silly film like the rest of us, no matter where it’s set. That said, it’s almost guaranteed that F9 (due in 2019) will feature some Asian locations — if for no reason other than that the series has run out of other countries to visit.
Originality Ain’t Dead
Laugh and joke and deride all you want, but you must admit that The Fate of the Furious is — in the traditional sense — part of an original property. Sure, its success is based on the popularity of previous Fast films, but this series is unique in that it isn’t based on a book, comic-book, TV series or video game, yet manages to make money previously unheard of from live-action original franchises. The dream is that, a decade down the road, we can see the eighth installments of other original franchises do so well. And we said live-action, so Toy Story doesn’t count.
Trust Diverse Talent To Deliver
Long before the weekend was finished, F. Gary Gray had become the most successful black director of a film in box office history. Coming off 2015’s huge hit Straight Outta Compton, and with Friday, The Italian Job and Law Abiding Citizen on his resumé, Gray was the perfect choice to work on a Fastmovie. Clearly, both in the film’s performance and quality (we really enjoyed it), he did his job. Hopefully this can persuade studios to loan the keys of their biggest franchises to directors who aren’t white men. Patty Jenkins’ Wonder Woman will also have a big impact in this area if it succeeds.
The Rock Is Unstoppable
While Vin Diesel’s credentials as a solo star remain somewhat iffy (XXX Return of Xander Cage performed okay, but not terrifically, in January), it’s the presence of Dwayne Johnson that elevates F8 to must-see status. His Luke Hobbs saved the Fast series in 2011’s Fast Five, and is now the true hero of these films. The double-act of Johnson and Jason Statham is by far the best thing about F8, and — honestly — we’d happily pay to see F9 if Diesel’s Dom Toretto wasn’t in it. Sorry, Vin.
Don’t Be Coy In Your Marketing
Trailers and posters exist for a reason, and F8 held nothing back in its promotional material: the film’s biggest set-pieces — the submarine chase, the New York pile-up, the Havana race, the prison breakout — were all included, and while this might’ve spoiled our enjoyment of the film slightly, it certainly helped bring audiences in to see the finished film. If your film is as stupid as most major blockbusters are, there’s no point being ‘teasy’ with your marketing.