“Fast X” (Universal) doesn’t look a like a make-or-break movie: At best, it might have the third-highest May domestic opening weekend with $60 million-$70 million. However, the “Fast and Furious” franchise should be — needs to be — huge in foreign territories. The last three installments drew 77 percent to 82 percent of their gross from international, with nearly $400 million in China alone.
However, this is the first “Fast” to be released in the post-pandemic environment. While it spent the last decade as Hollywood’s top-performing foreign franchise, it’s unclear what that means in 2023. Ever since Covid, foreign revenues for Hollywood movies have struggled. If anything might break the trend, it’s Vin Diesel’s high-octane melodrama dedicated to family, loyalty, and cars; if it doesn’t — well, then what will?
All existential concerns aside, the tenth entry in the “Fast and Furious” franchise needs the money. It has a reported budget of at least $250 million; Wikipedia lists an unconfirmed $340 million. Either way, covering that nut plus considerable marketing expenses demands a huge worldwide response.
If Universal gets its wish, it would be a boon for international box-office health. Between 2017-2019, about two-thirds of the gross was foreign: The average international share of the top 10 studio titles averaged between 63 percent-66 percent. In 2022, that fell to 59 percent. In 2023 to date, it’s 51 percent.
Contrast that with the global box office performance: In 2022, domestic box office contributed $7.4 billion — about 28 percent of the worldwide box-office total of $26 billion. In 2018, it was 27 percent; in 2019, 29 percent. And yet, only “Avatar: The Way of Water” and “Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore” exceeded a 63 percent foreign share; that was at the low end of average pre-Covid.
What’s the culprit? It suggests an unintended consequence of Covid shutdowns and delays: Foreign territories now watch more movies that don’t come from Hollywood. Local productions had fewer restrictions, and often reopened theaters sooner. This is particularly true in China, which saw three local productions gross over $600 million in the last two years.
Also notable is that comic-book movies, which almost always saw 65 percent or more of their grosses overseas, have fallen below 60 percent. “Top Gun: Maverick” did less than half of its gross overseas. Even “The Super Mario Bros. Movie” is only 56 percent foreign; for animated movies, 67 percent or more used to be the norm.
“Furious 7” in 2015 grossed $1.52 billion worldwide with $1.16 billion overseas; “The Fate of the Furious” in 2019 grossed $1.24 billion worldwide with just over $1 billion overseas. “F9,” which opened in still-shaky May 2021, grossed $726 million worldwide with $553 million overseas.
Reaction in China, where it opened Wednesday May 17 with Tuesday previews, will be critical. There, Universal reports initial shows (including Tuesday) grossed $17.4 million. The last two “Fast” films opened on a Friday in China to $59 million and $68 million, respectively, with opening weekends in that country at of $136 million and $192 million. In both cases, that represented about two thirds of its eventual Chinese haul.
All told, 12 countries total opened May 17; most of the world (other than Russia) will have the film by Friday. The global performance of “Fast X” will be a critical tell: It could suggest that Hollywood dominance can make a comeback — or, it could suggest that budgets for the next “Fast” installment will need a haircut.