Fast & Furious 6 races ahead as The Hangover Part III crashes and burns

The Hangover Part II

Fast & Furious 6 screeched to the top of the North American charts on an estimated $98.5m (£65.1m) and will cross $100m when the four-day Memorial Day weekend numbers come out on Monday.

It fuelled the biggest Memorial Day weekend on record and set a record international opening weekend for distributor Universal on $158m (£104m). That means it has already crossed $275m (£182m) worldwide after two weekends, factoring in a limited international foray last weekend when it broke records for distributor Universal in the UK.

It's hard to think of another mature franchise that has experienced a critical and commercial turbo-boost as startling as that of the Fast & Furious series. Your average Harry Potter or Twilight blockbuster series hits the ground running and, barring the odd banana peel, builds and builds to absurd heights, but what makes the Fast & Furious franchise so unique is the timing of its surge in popularity.

The series started well enough in 2001 and was always going to be a nice little earner for Universal. However, by the time the The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift came out in 2006, it was in danger of echoing that third episode's title and drifting way past Tokyo and into the north Pacific, never to be seen again. It was at a critical and commercial low-point.

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The franchise picked itself up with Fast & Furious in 2009 and ended up grossing $363m worldwide – considerably higher than the box office for the first two and far more than Tokyo Drift. By 2011, it was ready for its closeup. Fast Five roared out of the gates and was rightly praised by critics – no staging of a heist from the last five, possibly 10 years can touch that ridiculous bank vault sequence through the streets of Rio.

Fast Five went on to gross over $625m worldwide. That is serious money. No franchise I can think of has somersaulted into the stratosphere so long after its genesis. Perhaps only 2012's Skyfall can occupy the same ground after becoming the biggest and most widely acclaimed movie of the decades-long James Bond series. Its $1.1bn global box office dwarfed anything done by the previous movies, but the 007 series has thrown up critical darlings before. The same cannot be said of the Fast and Furious franchise.

So the sixth movie has arrived and Fast & Furious 6 clearly wants to be even bigger than its predecessor – and there's every sign that it will be. The franchise has broad appeal among a number of age groups and with both male and female viewers, and is highly popular with North America's Hispanic audience, the fastest-growing portion of its filmgoing public.

Universal has not missed a trick and last month announced it was pulling out the stops to release the seventh instalment in 2014. This is one Episode VII that audiences are actually looking forward to and seems destined to make money.

A quick word on The Hangover Part III. Is it a comedy or a drama? It's a pretty dark story and this lack of definition, plus the fact that the franchise is well past its sell-by date, may have been reflected in its box-office performance at the weekend, which was some way below that of the second movie in 2011. It's too big a franchise to write off at this stage but it faces an uphill battle to gross more than its predecessors and take the series out on a high. Oh, and The Great Gatsby has crossed $200m worldwide. That, too, is impressive.

North American top 10, 24-26 May 2013

1. Fast & Furious 6, $98.5m
2. The Hangover Part III, $54.2m
3. Star Trek Into Darkness, $38m. Total: $146.8m
4. Epic, $34.2m
5. Iron Man 3, $19.4m. Total: $367.5m
6. The Great Gatsby, $13.7m. Total: $114.4m
7. Mud, $1.9m. Total: $14.6m
8. 42, $1.25m. Total: $91m
9. The Croods, $1.22m. Total: $179.2m
10. Oblivion, $815,000. Total: $87.3m

Powered by article was written by Jeremy Kay, for on Monday 27th May 2013 14.27 Europe/London © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010