Can the “Pitch Perfect” movies become a female “Fast and the Furious” franchise for Universal Pictures?
It’s a stretch. Other than both original films being sleeper hits when they opened, the two don’t seem to have much in common, particularly in terms of accomplishment to date. But Universal executives, excited about the response that “Pitch Perfect 2” is getting, would love to see the homegrown musical comedy become a franchise like the muscle car movies.
Unlike its rivals, Universal hasn’t had a superhero film franchise or a book-based blockbuster like “Harry Potter” in recent years, though “Fifty Shades of Gray” is now reversing that trend. Instead, the studio’s specialty has been “homegrown” franchises like “Fast and the Furious,” Malcolm D. Lee‘s “The Best Man” and “Despicable Me,” the original animated hit from Chris Meledandri’s Illumination Entertainment that brought us the Minions.
It looks like “Pitch Perfect 2,” which opens Friday against the vehicular violence of “Mad Max: Fury Road,” is going to connect. Most analysts seeing a close race and both films debuting between $35 million and $40 million. But it would still have a long road to travel.
Vin Diesel and the late Paul Walker have driven the seven “Fast and the Furious” films to more than $3.8 billion over 14 years. That blows the doors off the lone “Pitch Perfect” film, which warbled its way to $114 million globally — and became one of the top-selling DVDs of the year — as Anna Kendrick, Rebel Wilson, Brittany Snow and Skylar Astin hit the high notes.
But in terms of financial multiples, the “Fast” crowd and the Barden Bellas are in harmony.
The original “The Fast and the Furious” earned $144 million at the domestic box office and $207 million worldwide back in 2001. That was roughly six times its $38 million budget, and it spawned a sequel. In 2012, “Pitch Perfect” grossed $65 million domestically and $115 million worldwide, roughly six times its $17 million budget, and it too generated a sequel.
The combined cost of the two “Pitch Perfect” movies is $46 million, about a quarter of what “Furious 7” cost, so we’re definitely talking an economy model of the hot car series. And proudly un-cool college kids singing in a cappella competitions are definitely not in the same fast lane as the muscle cars, cool guys and hot gals of the ultra-action “F&F” crowd.
But there are some interesting parallels. and the studio’s strategy as it merges “Pitch Perfect” onto the franchise freeway isn’t so different than its approach with the cars-and-criminals sagas.
The domestic box-office haul of ‘Pitch Perfect” was about the same as the third “F& F” film “Tokyo Drift” in 2006. That broke the momentum and Universal’s brain trust considered going direct-to-video with any future sequels. That didn’t happen, but they did overhaul the franchise.
The already multi-ethnic cast became even more diverse and, rather than the streets of L.A., the fourth “F&F” entry was set in the Dominican Republic, Panama and Mexico, and successive films featured exotic locales like Dubai, Hong Kong and Abu Dhabi. The stunts and action, already spectacular, were ratcheted up and became even more breath-taking.
“Pitch Perfect 2” also wears its diversity proudly and Universal will use a similar strategy to build interest abroad, though in an economy model way.
The Barden Bellas go global for the followup. It was filmed in Louisiana like the first film, but screenwriter Kay Cannon’s script for the sequel trades the original’s mainly small-town USA campus setting for an international competition against groups from the Philippines, U.K. and German aca-champions Das Sound Machine (an arrogant bunch of “Deutschbags”).
Elizabeth Banks — who produced with her husband Max Handelman and Paul Brooks’ Gold Circle Entertainment– stepped in when the first film’s director Jason Moore opted out for the Tina Fey-Amy Poehler comedy “Sisters.”
Banks also plays a snide commentator as part of ethnically diverse ensemble that includes Ester Dean playing a black gay woman and Asian Hana Mae Lee. Cubana Chrissie Fit joins the sequel’s cast, as do Denmark’s Birgitte Hjort Sørensen and Germany’s Flula Borg, along with Hailee Steinfeld and Katey Sagal. Snoop Dogg makes a cameo, along with a bunch of the Green Bay Packers players.
And while no one backs a car out of plane flying at 10,000 feet as they do in “Furious 7,” the “Pitch Perfect 2” gang takes their musical numbers to new heights. Among the bigger, bolder musical numbers is a Beyonce mashup the Huffington Post called “insane.”
It’s a longshot that the Barden Bellas will ever bring in the billions at the box office that the “Fast” crowd has for Universal, but they’re singing out loud as they head down road to Franchise-ville.