While the months of May to July are still your typical summer blockbuster months, studios have started to venture out to other, less competitive time periods to release some of their key tentpoles (hoping to take advantage of limited competition). This strategy worked for Marvel Studios to great effect last year, as both Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Guardians of the Galaxy hit it big during the usually less lucrative months of April and August, respectively.
And those results were sure to have an impact on the film industry at large, since they illustrated that general audiences would go out to support a good movie no matter when it was released in theaters. Case in point: Universal premiered Furious 7 at the multiplex last Friday, April 3 and it has already become the highest-grossing installment of the long-running action franchise.
Thanks to topping the box office charts in consecutive weekends (including a shattering of the April record), Furious 7 has already grossed an estimated $252.5 million domestically in only 10 days. By contrast, 2013's Fast and Furious 6, which previously held the title of most commercially successful Fast film, took 15 weeks to accumulate its $238.6 million domestic total. The franchise has been gaining forward momentum ever since 2011's Fast Five, and now it has achieved peak popularity. It's no wonder Universal is already thinking about Fast & Furious 8.
The sequel also crossed $800 million worldwide this weekend, putting it on pace to gain access to the $1 billion club. That group of titles may not be as exclusive as it once was, but should Furious 7 get there, it will be just the 20th film in Hollywood history to reach the plateau. That's quite an accomplishment, especially considering the film was not distributed in 3D (though IMAX showings certainly gave it a boost in sales numbers).
As we've already said, there are plenty of reasons why moviegoers enjoy watching these films, and the shift from underground street racing subculture to car-based action heists expanded the franchise's appeal to the mainstream. Furious 7 was always expected to be one of 2015's most successful films, but even the rosiest of studio suits couldn't have predicted it would become one of the biggest movies of all-time. So what was different this time around?
One thing most people will point to is Paul Walker. The actor tragically lost his life while Furious 7 was still in production. Director James Wan employed techniques like CGI and body doubles to complete his character's scenes so that the film could also operate as a touching tribute to its late lead. This factor led to Furious 7 having more of an "event" status than its predecessors, since even the most casual of fans was curious to see how this element would be handled. The appeal of seeing Walker's final career performance in his defining role certainly added to the desire to see the film in theaters.
But while it's easy to point at the Walker situation as the primary reason for Furious 7's unprecedented success, that's hardly the only reason the film is such a hit. Prior to its opening weekend, the box office was in the middle of a prolonged slump, with many wide releases failing to connect with audiences and bombing financially. Furious 7 arrived at just the right time; before the onslaught of genre pictures this summer and when audiences were starting to get restless for some high-octane popcorn entertainment. One look at its "competition," it's no wonder Furious 7 has made so much money.
The extension of the "summer" movie season to a year-long occasion is a very real thing, and Furious 7 only solidifies that it's not a trend. For example, Warner Bros. is planning on releasing certain DC movie universe projects during months like March and April, and will most likely post similar numbers to what Dom Toretto's crew have been generating.
In all honesty, this is a smart business decision for all the major studios. Instead of cannibalizing each other with films geared toward similar audiences over a period of three months, spreading the tentpoles out allows for there to be more successful film series, and we'll always have something to look forward to.
Furious 7 is now playing in theaters.