‘Furious 7’ Roars Into Box-Office Record Book With $143 Million Debut

Paul Walker fans drive Universal’s action sequel to best U.S. opening of 2015, plus an additional $240 million from overseas

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The ultra-action sequel “Furious 7” exploded for an April record of $143.5 million in its U.S. box office debut this weekend, the year’s best and by far its most emotional, thanks to the presence of the late Paul Walker.

“Furious 7” was in a market-high 4,003 theaters across the nation and dominated. “Home,” the DreamWorks Animation family film that opened at No. 1 last weekend, held up well and took in a solid $27.4 million for second place – but finished roughly $115 million behind the leader. The other studios cleared out and no other movie opened wide.

“Furious 7” was in command overseas as well, finishing on top internationally with $240 million from 63 foreign markets. Combined with its domestic haul, the action epic rang up an eye-popping $384 million at the worldwide box office this weekend, nearly double (48 percent) the global haul of “Fast and Furious 6.” It is also the fourth-highest global total ever, behind two Harry Potter movies — “The Deathly Hollows” ($483 million) and “The Half-Blood Prince” ($394 million) — and “The Avengers” ($393 million).

The powerful showing both at home and abroad capped the franchise’s evolution from a cop vs. criminals saga set in the world of street racing into an ultra-action series, featuring an elite unit fighting terrorists in exotic locales. The shift was in part to boost it overseas and “Fast and Furious 7,” as it is titled abroad, clearly benefited. It was shown in 3D, a first for the series.

The “Furious 7” domestic opening was a stunning $25 million higher than analysts and the studio had predicted. And fans turning out to honor Walker, the 40-year-old actor killed in a fiery car crash while the movie was shooting in November 2013, had a lot to do with that.

Stars Vin Diesel, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Tyrese Gibson and newcomer Jason Statham did too. The “Furious 7” audience reflected that of its multi-ethnic cast. Hispanics made up the majority of the crowds at 37 percent, even higher than the 32 percent that led the last two “F&F” films. Caucasians followed at 25 percent, African-Americans were next at 24 and Asians made up 10 percent of the audience. It was an even split gender-wise, with men at 51 percent.

There was no missing the impact of Walker, however. The cast and crew repeatedly dedicated the film to him, and its “One Last Ride” tagline was a reference to the memory of Walker, who was replaced by his brothers Cody and Caleb and computer images in several scenes filmed after his death.

“I think Paul was a big reason people were interested,” said Universal’s domestic distribution chief Nick Carpou, “but the action mattered, and Vin and the rest of the cast did, too. This isn’t just an action movie. There has always been a family aspect to this franchise, even with the cast as diverse as it is, and I think that’s a strong, resonating factor.”

The “Furious 7” opening is the best in the history of the 14-year-old franchise, well ahead of the $97 million of 2013’s “Fast and Furious 6.” With schools and colleges out for Easter and spring break, moviegoers under the age of 25 made up 44 percent of the audience, which awarded the film an “A” CinemaScore. It’s at a strong 82 percent positive on Rotten Tomatoes. That’s a bouquet for director James Wan, who took over for Justin Lin. Writer Chris Morgan has scripted all seven films.

Sensational action sequences have become a series staple – this one includes a scene in which the team parachutes their cars to perfect landings from a cargo plane flying two miles high – and “Furious 7” got a big boost from fans who took it in on giant screens in record-breaking numbers.

The 365 IMAX theaters took in $14 million, the best ever in April and roughly 10 percent of the grosses, and accounted for 17 of the top 20 sites domestically for “Furious 7.” Globally, IMAX delivered an estimated $22 million, another April record. The 400 Premium Large Format screens brought in a record $11.5 million, or eight percent of the take, which topped the $9.8 million put up by “Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1.”

The production budget on “Furious 7” was $190 million, more than double the $85 million cost of 2009’s “Fast and Furious,” the first film in the series. But in three days, it has grossed roughly $10 million less than the $155 million original did in its entire domestic run, good news for the film’s producers Neal Moritz, Michael Fottrell and Diesel.

As to how many more “Fast and Furious” movies might be coming, Universal’s Carpou didn’t put a number on it Sunday, citing the nature of the franchise.

“It’s an original concept. It’s not based on a book or a theme park ride, so there’s no particular number of readers that are going to translate to moviegoers,” he said. “It’s more a matter of where the story and family can go.”

The R-rated Will Ferrell-Kevin Hart prison comedy “Get Hard” was third with roughly $13 million, a steep 62 percent drop from its opening, and raised its domestic total to $57 million for Warner Bros..

“Cinderella” and “The Divergent Series: Insurgent” were neck-and-neck with $10.2 million and $10 million, respectively. The Disney fairy tale is up to $167 million domestically after four weeks, while Lionsgate’s young adult sci-fi tale is at $103 million after three.

The R-rated teen horror film “It Follows” got an aggressive 437-theater boost to 1,655 locations from Radius and Dimension, and took in $2.4 million to up its domestic total to $8.5 million after four weeks.