'Fast Five' is expected to shift the box office into high gear

Hollywood is hoping that "Fast Five" will finally rev up ticket sales this weekend in what has so far been a dismal year at the box office.

With a tagline that boasts "summer starts early," the fifth film in the popular street racing franchise is the first in a string of big-budget studio event movies that will be released over the next few months. The film debuts as ticket sales in 2011 are down 17% and attendance is off 18%. For weeks, movie industry executives have lamented the state of the box office, placing their hopes on summer season "tentpoles" such "Fast Five" to get people in the habit of going to theaters every weekend.

"My deepest hope is that this is the first movie in a summer that can turn around all the negativity that's been out there about the box office," said Nikki Rocco, president of domestic distribution for Universal Pictures, the studio releasing "Fast Five."

The "Fast and Furious" series has performed impressively in the past, with the previous four films grossing more than $1 billion around the world. According to people who have seen prerelease audience surveys, "Fast Five" is on target to open to slightly more than the $71 million that the most recent movie, "Fast & Furious," debuted with in 2009. But because the market has been so depressed this year, Universal is projecting a lower figure of about $60 million.

Either way, "Fast Five" would have the highest opening weekend of any film so far this year (beating "Rio's" $39.2 million) and take in exponentially more than either of the two other movies opening in wide release this weekend. "Prom," a coming-of-age film that is the first to be put into production by Walt Disney Studios Chairman Rich Ross, should collect about $8 million. The moderately-budgeted "Hoodwinked Too! Hood vs. Evil," the 3-D animated sequel to 2005's 2-D "Hoodwinked," probably will sell about $7 million worth of tickets.

"Fast Five" opened in a handful of foreign markets last week and has collected $34.6 million overseas; it debuts in 10 additional countries this weekend. Domestically, the movie is generating the most buzz from males, particularly younger ones, though there is interest among women as well. As with the previous "Fast" films, this movie is expected to be especially popular with Latinos and African Americans.

Universal is banking on attracting a broader global audience to "Fast Five": It gave the movie a significantly higher budget than that of 2009's "Fast & Furious" and switched the genre, making it a heist film rather than a pure underground-racing movie. The movie cost at least $170 million to produce, according to three people familiar with the matter who were not authorized to discuss the budget. A Universal spokeswoman said the actual cost was $125 million.

Meanwhile, "Prom" is pretty much "Fast Five's" polar opposite. The movie cost only $8 million to produce and features a cast of up-and-coming young actors, targeted largely at one demographic: teenage girls.

The second "Hoodwinked" film was initially scheduled to be released in January 2010. In fact, toys based on the film's characters appeared in Burger King kids' meals for a brief period early last year. But the movie was postponed by the distributor, Weinstein Co., which was financially troubled at the time, and has since been converted to 3-D. The film was co-financed by Weinstein Co. and Kanbar Entertainment, who went to court last year over issues related to the film's delay.

Overseas, Paramount Pictures releases the Marvel superhero film "Thor" in 29 foreign markets this weekend, including Britain, Korea and Russia. Its opens in the U.S. on May 6.


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