Leaving aside special cases like the Harry Potter and James Bond films, it’s hard to think of a franchise that has had much left in the tank five movies in, if it’s even made it that far. But with its $83.6 million opening weekend, Fast Five proved that the street-racing franchise still has plenty of gas after 10 years. It outperformed all four previous movies by a healthy margin, fast-and-furiously smashing several records in the process: biggest opening weekend of 2011, biggest April opening weekend ever, biggest opening weekend in the entire history of Universal Pictures. Oh, and that box office slump that’s been plaguing Hollywood for months? It left skid marks all over that thing, too.
Why did Fast Five connect so powerfully with audiences? Depending on who you ask, you’ll get different answers. Some will credit the filmmakers with pivoting smoothly from the underground-street-racing formula toward the more audience-friendly heist-movie genre. Some will say that, in this period of economic and political malaise, moviegoers have been hankering for an old-fashioned cinematic fix of fast cars, beautiful people, big muscles, and bigger explosions, and that the combination of Vin Diesel, Dwayne Johnson, Paul Walker, and all those badass hot rods was just too tempting a testosterone cocktail to pass up. Some will note that, by some odd chance, the two top-grossing movies of 2011 so far have both been set in Brazil and will blame it on Rio. And of course, some moviegoers—most likely the kinds of people who went to see the new Werner Herzog documentary, Cave of Forgotten Dreams, this weekend instead of Fast Five—will look at that record-setting opening and just shake their heads, lamenting that such “mindless entertainment” dominates our cultural landscape. For what it’s worth, I saw both Cave of Forgotten Dreams and Fast Five this weekend, and I’d argue that it’s not an either/or proposition.
As Hollywood struggles to figure out what’s working at the box office and why, there will be all kinds of Monday-morning quarterbacking in the executive suites, with everyone attempting to divine the secret recipe to Fast Five’s smash opening. So let’s help those execs out. If you saw Fast Five, what drew you to it? And did it satisfy? If you didn’t, are you tempted to go see what all the fuss is about? And what’s your own pet theory for why the most popular movie in the land is the fourth sequel in a decade-old franchise?