The turbocharged "Fast & Furious" zoomed to the biggest opening weekend of the year thus far, racking up an estimated $72.5 million at the box office in its record-setting sprint.
With Vin Diesel's sinister but lovable lunkhead Dom back in the driver's seat, thousands of theatergoers returned for the fourth installment of the street racing franchise, which also posted the best April opening week as it shot past the previous record of $42.2 million, set by "Anger Management" in 2003.
DreamWorks Animation's family comedy "Monsters vs. Aliens" finished in second place for the weekend with $33.5 million, a 44% drop from its opening performance last weekend but strong enough to push its two-week gross to $105.7 million.
The studio hopes that the movie will keep pulling in young families during spring break this week, said Anne Globe, head of worldwide marketing and consumer products at DreamWorks Animation. Audiences are paying extra to see the three-dimensional version, she said.
"The 3-D continues to outperform the 2-D, further solidifying the strength of this new, totally immersive theater experience," Globe said.
But the weekend was mostly about a break from reality in the presence of muscle cars and the pumped-up pretty people who drive them at insane speeds with breathtaking precision until somebody has an awesome crash.
"What says 'escape' better than fast cars, hot girls and good-looking guys?" said Paul Dergarabedian, president of Los Angeles box office tracker Media by Numbers.
Reuniting the cast from the popular first movie of the franchise in 2001, which was titled slightly differently as "The Fast and the Furious," was the key to attracting big audiences, Dergarabedian said. "You can't just create a sequel and think everyone is going to line up."
Universal played up the cast reunion with the slogan "New model, original parts" as it tried to lure viewers back to the franchise, said Nikki Rocco, president of domestic distribution.
"Our marketing group told audiences . . . it's not just about cars," she said. "It's the story, the cars and the relationships that make this one work so well."
Rocco and Adam Fogelson, Universal's president of marketing and distribution, also calculated that the first weekend in April would be a sweet spot for an action flick.
"There's been nothing like it since 'Watchmen,' " which opened four weeks ago, Rocco said. "Adam and I saw an opportunity and had a gut feeling we could break out in April. I guess we were right."
Certainly, there was little competition from other big movie debuts over the weekend. The Miramax coming-of-age comedy "Adventureland," about young people learning life lessons on the job in an amusement park, opened in about half as many theaters as "Fast & Furious" and pulled in $6 million in its sixth-place finish.
In its second week, Lionsgate's fear fest "The Haunting in Connecticut" garnered $9.5 million. The movie is based on the story of a family that claimed to experience supernatural events after moving into a home that was once a mortuary.
"Knowing," the Nicolas Cage science-fiction film produced by Summit Entertainment, made $8.1 million in its third week; Paramount's goofy "I Love You, Man" grossed $7.85 million.
Rounding out the top 10 were Universal Pictures' "Duplicity," a thriller starring Julia Roberts and Clive Owen, which generated $4.3 million; Disney's family-friendly "Race to Witch Mountain," with $3.35 million; and the Fox crime drama "12 Rounds," with $2.3 million. Overture's comedic morality tale "Sunshine Cleaning," still in limited release, made the top 10 with nearly $1.9 million.
Whether "Fast & Furious" can maintain its pace much longer remains to be seen, but its weekend success suggests that Universal will make a fifth installment.
Said distribution boss Rocco: "If I had my druthers, we would."
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Preliminary results in the U.S. and Canada, based on studio projections:
*--* Movie 3-day gross Total Weeks (studio) (millions) (millions)
1 Fast & Furious (Universal) $72.5 $72.5 1
2 Monsters vs. Aliens (DreamWorks) 33.5 105.7 2
3 The Haunting in Connecticut 9.6 37.2 2 (Lionsgate)
4 Knowing (Summit) 8.1 58.2 3
5 I Love You, Man (Paramount) 7.9 49.3 3
6 Adventureland (Miramax) 6 6 1
7 Duplicity (Universal) 4.3 32.4 3
8 Race to Witch Mountain (Disney) 3.4 58.4 4
9 12 Rounds (Fox) 2.3 9 2
10 Sunshine Cleaning (Overture) 1.9 4.8 4 *--*
*--* 3-day gross Change Year-to-date gross Change (in millions) from 2008 (in billions) from 2008 $160 67% $2.6 14% *--*
Note: A movie may be shown on more than one screen at each venue.
Source: Media by Numbers