Blockbuster 'Fast Five' gets summer movie season off to early start

‘Fast Five,’ the latest sequel in the cars ’n’ stars franchise, earned $83 million at the weekend box office. Hollywood has been trying to lengthen the season for blockbuster movies and attendance.

Universal Pictures/AP
Vin Diesel (l.) and Dwayne Johnson are shown in a scene from the blockbuster 'Fast Five.'

Who knew summer could start in April? Hollywood just helped itself to a chunk of the springtime calendar with the blockbuster “Fast Five” – the latest sequel in the cars ’n’ stars franchise.

With “Fast Five” earning a surprise $83 million at the weekend box office, the summer season just expanded by at least a week. That’s because this Friday’s “Thor,” directed by Kenneth Branagh, was supposed to be the “official” debut of summer popcorn flicks.

Of course, this is all industry mumbo jumbo because normal people know that summer doesn’t start until, well, maybe Memorial Day weekend, right? But the 1996 freaky-weather hit “Twister” arrived on May 10, and that turned Most of May into summertime real estate, as far as movies are concerned. “Spider-Man” in 2002 cemented the trend, when it broke the $100 million mark its opening weekend in May.

This Tinseltown tinkering matters because as box-office expert Paul Dergarabedian points out, “Summertime is when studios make about 40 percent of their revenues.” They will do anything they can to expand the attendance and buzz associated with warmer weather and blockbuster movies, he says.

Last weekend’s manna from moviegoing heaven also helps reverse a downturn in the box office, which last month was off 20 percent compared with a year ago, he points out. And as theater owners fret about the impact of the studios’ decision to digitally stream movies directly to consumers after only a 60-day theatrical release window, “this is good news for everyone,” says Mr. Dergarabedian.

“This shows that with the right movie, nothing will keep people from heading out to the theater the minute a movie opens,” says Rob Weiner, visual and performing-arts librarian at Texas Tech University in Lubbock.

“People want to go out and see films that have a sense of fun, fast pacing, and are just pure escapism,” he says, adding that the film industry still relies on “tried-and-true formulas,” of which “Fast” is one.” The blockbuster summer may be a tad early this year, but with all the problems people are facing, action films could be just what the public needs.

While the moviegoing experience will undoubtedly change in the digital era, Mr. Weiner applauds anything that supports theater owners.

“Going to the movies still proves to be a unique experience that you can’t get from home theaters or streaming on computers,” he says. “It is an event unto itself. There is nothing like watching a movie with an audience.”

While “Fast Five” doesn’t draw from the Marvel or DC stable of characters, the movie expands what’s already a surplus of superhero films this summer, points out Brad Ricca, who is working on a book about superheroes for St. Martin’s Press.

“The characters aren’t real,” he says, “but they’re just as oversized as Thor or Captain America,” he points out.

Many decry the lack of imagination driving the proliferation of sequels. This summer alone marks the return of a number of high-profile franchises, from “Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides” to “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2,” “Kung Fu Panda 2,” and “The Hangover Part II.” But, says Mr. Ricca, successful franchises help secure the financial footing of the studios, making them “more likely to try out smaller, less effects-driven films.”

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