5 reasons why 'Furious 7' had a record-breaking opening weekend at the box office

“Fast and Furious 7,” aka “Furious 7,” had a record-breaking opening weekend at theatres.

The film, which grossed an estimated $US143.6 million over the holiday weekend, beat all analyst expectations which originally estimated the film would make between $US115 million and $US120 million.

Now, the film is the highest-grossing debut for an April movie and Easter weekend.

“Furious 7” also debuted to number one in 63 markets, grossing another $US240.4 million overseas to bring its worldwide total to $US384 million.

Why did “Furious 7” take off at the box office? There were a lot of factors which led to the film’s success both at home and overseas.

1. Paul Walker

The most obvious reason fans and non-fans may want to head out to see the film is to see how Universal and the cast handled finishing the seventh instalment in the franchise after Walker’s death in November 2013.

Ludacris told fans recently at one of the first fan screenings that Walker completed about 80% of filming. Walker’s brothers Caleb and Cody came in to help complete the rest.

“Its success at the box office, many people are going to see that as a tribute to Paul Walker, and what he brought to the franchise and they’re going to show up for that reason,” Phil Contrino, the vice president and chief analyst of BoxOffice.com, tells Business Insider. “Even if they maybe skipped some of the other movies, they will show up for this one.”

“The big thing is, what happens to Paul Walker and how they handle that,” added Contrino.

Cast members from Vin Diesel to Tyrese have been telling their social media networks that they hope to make Paul (or Pablo, as some affectionately refer to him) proud with this movie. The hashtag “#ForPaul” appears on screen at the film’s end, offering fans to start a conversation.

2. Vin Diesel

After Walker’s death, Diesel quickly became one of the most-followed celebrities on Facebook with over 87 million likes as he shared images and stories of himself and Walker with fans in both English and Spanish. Diesel makes it a point to share news with his fans first. He revealed the release date for “Furious 7” before Universal had the chance to break the news, and has shared news of secret meetings at Marvel and the Facebook HQ with Mark Zuckerberg himself.

Diesel also gained a big following after his role in last summer’s hit “Guardians of the Galaxy” in which he played the loveable tree Groot, a role, which, the actor later said helped him get through Walker’s death.

The 47-year-old actor has been the driving force behind the “Fast and Furious” franchise for some time. After skipping the 2003 sequel, “2 Fast 2 Furious,” Diesel returned at the end of the third film, “Tokyo Drift” for a brief cameo.

After the film had the worst performance of the series, taking in $US158 million worldwide, Universal considered sending the series straight to video. Instead, Universal turned to Diesel, giving him creative control over the franchise. Since then, each film has only been bigger, both in terms of stunts and worldwide gross.

3. Social media

It’s not just Vin Diesel. Take a look at most of the entire cast — Michelle Rodriguez, Tyrese, and Ludacris are all among the stars that have shared behind-the-scenes images from the film before it hit theatres, and shared anecdotes and memories of Paul with fans. Some of the biggest cast members in the film openly grieved Walker’s death and the fans responded to that enormously.

The “Fast and Furious” movies in general have a huge social footprint. The films’ Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube pages and more are a well-oiled machine. While the movie’s YouTube page has put out countless featurettes on the making of the film and nostalgic clips from series past, Instagram was releasing 7-second long videos teasing footage for the movie days before the trailer came out.

The Facebook account alone has 54.9 million followers — well more than Marvel (17.9 million) and “Star Wars” (13 million) combined.

Each social account was always putting out something different that engaged fans and felt organic. Unlike other films, the social experience didn’t stop once a film was put out. Fans are never given a chance to forget about the “Fast” family.

“If you follow ‘Minions,’ ‘Jurassic World,’ and ‘Fifty Shades of Grey,’ they had the same approach with those movies where it was just kind of a slow-drip marketing approach,” Contrino explains. “Where they say here’s a new still or here’s a funny ‘Minions’ video or here’s something from ‘Jurassic World.’ They keep it going and they keep building it. People share that stuff and they add more likes.”

“Universal’s marketing department deserves a huge amount of credit for how successful these movies are,” says Contrino. “They’re going to be neck and neck with Disney this year, at least domestically for the highest market share of the major studios at the box office. That’s pretty significant because they don’t have a superhero franchise and they’re doing incredibly well.”

4. The diverse cast

There’s a reason the audience opening weekend for “Furious 7” was 75% non-white.

One of the things the “Fast and Furious” franchise excels at which so many other franchises have difficulty doing organically, is having an ethnically rich cast that hat hits upon nearly every demographic.

Take a look at all of the “Fast and Furious” films and characters speak a number of languages on screen including Spanish, English, and Russian.

Entertainment Weekly recently pointed this out in a cover story titled, “This is What America Looks Like: So why don’t our movies?”

Entertainment weekly fast furiousEntertainment Weekly, Photo by Kirsten Acuna/Business InsiderThe article shows off the incredibly diverse cast from Michelle Rodriguez and Ludacris to Jason Statham and the Rock.

Diesel told EW, “It doesn’t matter what nationality you are. As a member of the audience, you realise you can be a member of that ‘family.’ That’s the beautiful thing about how the franchise has evolved.”

“They do it in a smart way,” Contrino tells us. “It doesn’t feel tacked on like some movies where a Spanish-speaking character pops up for an obligatory line or two that’s caricature. They don’t do that. It’s fully-fleshed out characters who people care about. That’s a huge lesson for any other content producers who want to take the quick easy route. That doesn’t work. You have to do it the right way.”

5. It’s more than just a car movie

Since its inception in 2001, the “Fast and Furious” films have souped-up cars, hot chicks, and ridiculous stunts. While the films certainly contain those elements, at the heart of each movie, especially the last three, is family.

Nowhere does this resonate more than in the series’ fifth film when Dominic Toretto (Diesel) gathers everyone around to say, “The most important thing in life will always be the people in this room. Right here. Right now. Salud mi familia.”

The “Fast and Furious” films are fun, they’re silly, but at the end of the day, they’re about Dom protecting both his immediate and his extended families.

That’s something everyone can relate to worldwide.

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