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Seven pieces of conventional wisdom disproved by 'Fast Five'

May 2, 2011 |  7:30 am


To get an idea of what Vin Diesel's "Fast Five" pulled off this weekend, consider this: In the three days just passed, the action movie took in about $140 million around the world -- more than 2010 award-season hit "The Fighter" and nearly as much as fall blockbuster "The Town" grossed over their lifetimes.

At first glance, this may not seem like that huge a deal: The Diesel-Paul Walker picture is just one more commercial offering with big explosions that drew us to theaters, as so many have done before. But in reversing the box-office slump this weekend (with $83.6 million tallied in the U.S. alone), "Fast Five" subverted a number of Hollywood assumptions about how and why we go to movies. Here's a rundown:

Traditional action and heist movies only hold so much appeal. Sure, "The Expendables" got us a little excited last summer. But when it comes to commercial filmmaking, it's vampires, comic books and cartoons that pack 'em in these days. Dominic Toretto shows us otherwise.

Franchises lose steam after their third installment. Hollywood thinks in threes for a reason. With few exceptions, most movies run out of gas after their third edition. Not this time. "Fast & Furious," the fourth movie in the franchise, nearly tripled the opening-weekend number of the third picture when it opened to $71 million two years ago. "Fast Five" did it $13 million better.

New directors can't turbocharge a flagging franchise. Justin Lin was actually the third director on the Universal series, after Rob Cohen ("The Fast & the Furious") and John Singleton ("2 Fast 2 Furious"). And Lin, as a purveyor of mainly little-seen Sundance movies, is not a terribly well-known director at that. Lin went on to revive not only the "Fast" franchise but also his own career -- he's set to direct "Terminator 5"  as well.

Hit franchises must bring out the stars. Most successful properties come with A-listers; think "Pirates" and Depp, "Bourne" and Damon, "Iron Man" and Downey. But "Fast & Furious" has had a revolving door of actors, and they're hardly top names. Yet it hasn't hurt one bit. What has helped, at least this weekend: a racially diverse cast that includes Diesel, Ludacris, Tyrese Gibson, Gal Gadot, Sung Kang and Tego Calderon.

Don't mess with a title. Add Tokyo, take away Tokyo. Use numbers, don't use numbers. They're furious, they're not furious. The speedster franchise keeps changing its name, but that doesn't seem to hurt it at all.

Don't change genres after you've established a brand. "Fast & Furious" began as a street-racing vehicle. The fifth movie retained the chases but added a significant heist element.

People aren't going to movies as much as they used to. Coming into this weekend, 2011 had been a slack year for filmgoing. The biggest opener didn't even make it to $40 million. The question now is whether "Fast Five" is an exception or a trendsetter.


"Fast Five" races to the front of the pack

-- Steven Zeitchik


Photo: A poster for "Fast Five." Credit: Universal Pictures

Comments () | Archives (22)

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When you think about it, conventional wisdom in this case really just means statistical fortune-telling about how well a movie is going to do given lots of variables.

Given the number of variables, it's hard to imagine how anybody could come up with anything statistical to predict box-office performance.

Also, you also have really small samples to base your predictions on. Sure, the 5th installment in a series might "historically" be a poor performer ... but is the number of movies that are a 5th installment large enough to base any real statistical analysis on?

I'm betting no, which means "conventional wisdom" is really just extrapolating from vanishingly small "trends."


Could it just be that there is nothing else to see at the theater this week. Timing is everything, even for bad movies.

Maybe you're right. Or maybe a rehashed mediocre sequel^4 was released when there is really nothing good out and people wanted to get out of the house. I won't be spending my $12 to find out but I am saddened to think that this release will only encourage Hollywood to keep beating the same 'ol dead horses.

Dear Hollywood: I don't want to see Harry Potter Eleven, or Oceans Twenty Eight, or Terminator Seven, or for the love of God another "origins" movie. But apparently I am not one of the mouthbreathers that makes up your current majority audience.

Excellent camera work and set decoration all the way down to realistic looking GSA license plates on the Suburbans. Car chase almost equaling Bullit. Hot, hot, chicks. Light on gun fire. Excellent muzzle flashes. Too much dialog, but a few good one liners.

Overall - bravo, Mr. Lin.

No blue tint effect. Finally, an entire movie in full color! There is hope for Hollywood.

I am not a car loving person, and I will watch movies of all types - from art house flicks, foreign films, to action movies. I watched the F5 with my partner with my partner over the weekend and we both loved it.

F5 is one of those guilty pleasures and I really enjoyed the acting, action, adrenaline rush it gives you. Its pure escapism at its best. For those of you that are putting it down - I doubt you even bothered to watch it. It people like you that will never understand that most people watch movies to be entertained and escape reality. Most people don't watch a movie hoping it will win an Oscar in one of the top categories.

"Fast Five" subverted a number of Hollywood assumptions about how and why we go to movies. Here's a rundown:"

Using "we" is silly, maybe stupid is a better word.

There is a certain segment of the population here that responds to this type of action film. And, depending where abroad, there is also a sizable market.

But you are drawing too many conclusions from this box office report. In both the U.S. and abroad, it is very probable that it attracted an audience with less education. More analysis on ticket-buyers needs to be done before any sweeping assumptions about the success of "Fast Five."

Yes, the movie did draw a certain audience. Yes, it did make a lot of money.

But, it only drew one type of movie-goer. There is a huge number of potential viewers who would never go to see that movie. Big, buff, bald guys with guns and fast cars commit criminal acts.

Sounds like torture to me. You couldn't pay me to go out and see it.

Reviewers got it right before the weekend. It is a good movie for watching action and explosions, but it was little more than that.

If several movies like this are released too soon, it is very doubtful the gross would look anything like this weekend's. This movie is definitely not a trend-setter. It's a remake of a typical action type and a lame one at that.

Perhaps a different take should come from the box office report:

Why is a movie this dumb drawing so many people? Does it reflect some really big problems in today's society? Is our education system totally failing?

the only thing it's proved is that even very very bad movies can make money with girls and lots of explosions.

Franchises lose steam after their third installment ???

I can barely remember the name of the last movie I saw, on Saturday. But lack of steam after #3? What about: Harry Potter, Star Wars, Star Trek, Twilight, Pirates, Tolkien, Scream & Vacation? (yes, I am wearing it a bit thin in the end).


Fast five was just awesome! I made it a point to see it. After enjoying the action and the fun from the rest of the series, I was hoping this would not let me down. It sure didn't, it was just a well made movie that was really fun to watch and enjoy!

Don't you mean: "One Movie Which Is An Anecdotal Exception To Movie Conventional Wisdom"?

I wish them the best, and hope it's as entertaining as everyone says, but it hardly disproves anything.

These are all great points except number 4... Diesel and Johnson? I know a bunch of people who were excited for this movie just because of them. These two do, I would suggest, count as 'bringing out the stars.'

personally i have been aching for a decent action movie that wasn't comic book based, a comedy first, politisized. i really feel this had the opportunity to be a great action film, especially with the rare opportunity of having the stars from previous films all in one film, but the dialogue was weak, the script was weak, and borrowed too many subplots from recent films. it was almost there, but not quite there, some parts were entertaining, i liked the fact that although based in racing, there wasnt too much racing, as they have been there and done that, but yet still some impressive car special effects, that were totally unrealistic, but perceived as realistic. some action sequences were boring though. all in all a semi decent action movie for april.

I'm a little surprised at the lack of fact checking in this article. Firstly, Justin Lim has directed the last three of the Fast/Furious franchise in addition to Annapolis which he did for Touchstone/Disney. Second, though Vin Diesel and Paul Walker's names along with this franchise have done very well, you completely omitted Dwayne Johnson's involvement. The Rock is a very consistent draw. Which brings me to my third point that neither Johnny Depp nor Robert Downey Jr had much draw at all before Pirates and Iron Man, respectively.

rjhemedes :

"For those of you that are putting it down - I doubt you even bothered to watch it. It people like you that will never understand that most people watch movies to be entertained and escape reality."

That's the usual argument, often from people inside the movie industry. It's actually bogus. There are many, many people who are not entertained by this kind of movie, so of course they and I would comment without seeing it.

Watching mindless stories with gratuitous violence - for the sake of explosions etc, is not entertaining for many people. I truly hope the powers in Hollywood understand this better than the author of this article and the commentator quoted.

So while there is certainly a place for movies like "Fast Five," there really is a huge audience that Hollywood is missing with this type of production.

That's why I submitted an earlier comment.

Some people take themselves too seriously to be able to enjoy or at least admit that they enjoy a movie without a serious plot. Really, show some security and comfort with yourselves and be able to enjoy a movie for what it is and not falling short of what you feel a good movie must be.

Wow... wisdom has really let itself go.

@ RAP:
(1.) What type of movies do you like? Most movies have similarities to at least one of the fast & furious movies.(love, romance, explosions, cars, betrayal, good vs. bad, etc.)
(2.)What does education level have to do with fast & furious? I know many individuals with MD's, PHD's, M.S. degrees that love the whole series. There are men and women with those degrees that have a love for cars. Half of the cars that are in the movie are owned by billionaires.
(3.) The movie had more women causing a drooling then men with hair problems. What's even more interesting is that more women vs. men have come to the theater's to see the movie.
(4.) The movie had marketing power for Brasil. After seeing some of the breathtaking views, I will surely be going there on vacation soon.
(5.) Get your statistics straight before making quick judgement on a movie that I'm guessing you haven't seen yet. Yes it had a few bad lines, but besides that it was a sound movie.

Although you will never know the actual reasons, I wonder if America's sudden interest in movies is due to the price of gas. Families, and especially cash-strapped teenagers, find going 4 miles to the movies to be a lot cheaper than other pastimes, especially long car trips at what will be $5/gallon real soon.

It's still a turkey in my book. I'm sick of cartoon violence and action. I miss the realism of the 70s. I'll skip this movie, besides Vin and Paul are not good actors.

The breath taking views are Puerto Rico. Only a few shots belong to Brazil but everything else is Puerto Rico. :)


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