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Movie Projector: 'Fast Five' looks to shift the box office into high gear

April 28, 2011 | 12:49 pm

Fastfivevinpaulwide Hollywood is hoping that "Fast Five" will finally rev up ticket sales this weekend in what has so far been a dismal year at the box office.

With a tagline that boasts "summer starts early," the fifth movie in the popular street racing franchise is the first in a string of big-budget studio event movies that will be released over the next few months. The film debuts as ticket sales in 2011 are down 17% and attendance is off 18%. For weeks, movie industry executives have lamented the state of the box office, placing their hopes on summer season "tent-poles" such "Fast Five" to get people back in the habit of going to movie theaters every weekend.

“My deepest hope is that this is the first movie in a summer that can turn around all the negativity that’s been out there about the box office,” said Nikki Rocco, president of domestic distribution for Universal Pictures, the studio releasing “Fast Five.”

The "Fast and Furious" series has performed impressively in the past, with the previous four films grossing more than $1 billion around the world. According to people who have seen prerelease audience surveys, "Fast Five" is on target to open to slightly more than the $71 million that the most recent movie, "Fast & Furious," debuted with in 2009. But because the market has been so depressed this year, Universal is projecting a lower figure of about $60 million.

Either way, the movie would have the highest opening weekend of any film so far this year (beating "Rio's" $39.2 million) and take in exponentially more than either of the two other pictures in wide release this weekend. "Prom," a coming-of-age film that is the first to be put into production by Walt Disney Studios Chairman Rich Ross, should collect about $8 million. "Hoodwinked Too! Hood Vs. Evil," the 3-D animated sequel to 2005's 2D "Hoodwinked," will likely sell about $7 million worth of tickets.

"Fast Five" opened in a handful of foreign markets last week and has already collected $34.6 million overseas as it debuts in 10 additional countries this weekend. Domestically, the movie is generating the most buzz from males, particularly younger ones, though interest among women is decent as well. As with the previous "Fast" films, this movie is expected to be especially popular with Latinos and African Americans.

Universal is banking on attracting a broader global audience to "Fast Five," since its budget is significantly higher than for 2009's "Fast & Furious" and its genre was switched from a pure underground racing movie of its predecessors to a heist film. The movie cost at least $170 million to produce, according to three people familiar with the matter who were not authorized to discuss the film's budget. A Universal spokeswoman said the actual cost was $125 million.

"Fast Five" takes place in Rio de Janeiro and reunites stars from all four "Fast" movies, including Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, Jordana Brewster and Tyrese Gibson, and adds newcomer Dwayne Johnson. The studio is hoping that such updates will push the new film's worldwide tally past $353.2 million, which is how much the fourth installment collected two years ago.

Promaimeeteegarden Meanwhile, "Prom" is pretty much "Fast Five's" polar opposite. The movie cost only $8 million to produce and features a cast of up-and-coming young actors, targeted largely at one segment of the audience: teenage girls.

Movies aimed at young women have fared decently at the box office in recent months. "Soul Surfer" and "Beastly," both set in the world of high school, each opened to about $10 million and have since gone on to gross just less than $30 million domestically. If projections are correct, "Prom" will likely do a bit worse.

The second "Hoodwinked!" film was initially scheduled to be released in January 2010. In fact, toys based on the film's characters actually made it into Burger King kids' meals for a brief period early last year. But the movie was postponed by distributor the Weinstein Co., which was financially troubled at the time, and has since been converted to 3-D.

Financed by Weinstein Co. along with animation company Kanbar Entertainment, "Hoodwinked Too!" went into production with a budget of $30 million, according to a person with knowledge of the budget but was not authorized to speak publicly on the matter. The Weinstein Co. declined to comment on the film's budget. Last year, the Weinsteins and Kanbar went to court over issues related to the film's delay.

The first film, a satirical spin on the classic "Red Riding Hood" fairytale, cost even less to make and was a surprise hit, collecting $110 million worldwide. The sequel is on track to fare much more poorly and will likely be overshadowed by two other family films still in theaters: "Rio" and "Hop."

Overseas, Paramount Pictures releases the Marvel superhero film "Thor" in 29 foreign territories this weekend, including the United Kingdom, Korea and Russia. Its debuts in the U.S. on May 6.

--Amy Kaufman

Top photo: Vin Diesel, left, and Paul Walker in "Fast Five." Credit: Universal Pictures

Bottom photo: Aimee Teegarden stars in "Prom." Credit: Walt Disney Pictures

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