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‘Furious 7’ Shifts Into Overdrive at Box Office – Can It Hit $1 Billion Worldwide?

The latest entry in Universal’s increasingly global franchise opens Wednesday in France, the first of 63 foreign markets in which it debuts this weekend

If “Furious 7” becomes the year’s first movie to gross $1 billion at the worldwide box office, foreign returns will be the driving force. And on Tuesday, one day before its debut in France kicks off this weekend’s 63-nation overseas rollout, it was hitting on all cylinders.

“The adrenaline is definitely flowing,” Duncan Clark, the veteran distribution president who is overseeing the studio’s widest-ever overseas rollout, told TheWrap on Tuesday. Clark was referring to his team, but he could as easily have been talking about global audiences. Tracking for “Furious 7” has been very strong and steady for weeks in all of the biggest foreign markets, just as it has in North America, where it opens Friday.

“This is the best and most-anticipated film in a truly beloved franchise, and it is very much an event movie, and I think the numbers we’re seeing reflect that,” he said. “And then there is the emotional factor.”

Clark was, of course, talking about the electricity and passion running strong among fans of the cars-and-criminals franchise due to the absence of Paul Walker, who died in a fiery car crash while filming “Furious 7” in 2013.

“There is a very sad dimension to that in the movie, but there is also a feeling of honoring Paul and his legacy, and I think the filmmakers and studio have done a fantastic job doing that. It makes me proud, and I think the fans are feeling that as well,” he said.

The awareness level is huge for “Furious 7,” which picks up the action after the events of “Tokyo Drift.” That one was shot in Japan and successive “F&F” films have featured settings like Brazil, London and Abu Dhabi, where “Furious 7” filmed. So is the interest level, judging by advance business at Movietickets.com’s foreign outposts, where sales are  running roughly two-and-a-half times ahead of “Fast and Furious 6” at a similar stage.

That was a conscious effort by Universal to increase appeal among foreign moviegoers, similar to the way the studio has gone to a more ethnically varied cast, which has broadened its fan base domestically. It’s worked, with the last three films the highest-grossing in the six-film franchise, which has taken in $2.4 billion at the global box office. Foreign audiences supplied 70 percent of the $789 million global haul for “Fast 6.”

The date is ideal, with the high-octane action epic offering a de facto start to the summer movie season even though it’s April. With rival studios steering clear, there is no major competition. The social media efforts of stars Vin Diesel, Michelle Rodriguez and others — it has 54 million Facebook “likes” — has as much or more impact overseas as it does in the U.S. Its debut includes every major foreign market with the exception of Japan, Russia and China, all of which come later this month, and it will be in roughly 10,500 theaters worldwide.

The numbers point to “Furious 7” flirting with $1 billion.

“Fast and Furious 6” grossed $551 million internationally, an 18 percent increase over the $420 million that “Fast Five” managed abroad. If “Furious 7” sees the same increase –- and most analysts believe that’s a conservative projection –- it will come in around $685 million. Combined with a domestic total of $270 million, again based on the percentage gain of the previous film, it’s at roughly $970 million, well within range of $1 billion.

That “Furious 7” will take a serious run at becoming the 20th film in history to hit that standard seems assured to Exhibitor Relations senior analyst Jeff Bock.

“I think it’s going to hit $300 million domestically, and I think it will do much better than the last one overseas,” he said. “It’s clear from what we’ve seen from the previous two films that this franchise hasn’t hit its top speed yet. You add the Paul Walker factor into that mix and it’s right there.”

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