LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - "Fast Five," the fifth entry in the "Fast and the Furious" street-racing franchise, raced to the biggest opening of the year at the North American box office, while "Thor" was the top choice overseas.
According to studio estimates issued on Sunday, "Fast Five" earned about $83.6 million during its first three days of release across the United States and Canada, proving the appeal of car chases in exotic locales for young male moviegoers.
Industry prognosticators had expected the film to edge past the $71 million start for the previous film, "Fast and Furious" in 2009. The opening also boosted the flagging fortunes of both its distributor, Universal Pictures, and the overall industry.
"Thor" pulled in $83 million from 56 foreign markets, a week before the Marvel comic book adaptation opens in North America. Top-ranked openings included Britain ($9 million), France ($8.1 million) and South Korea ($5.7 million). Its foreign total stands at $93 million after the Paramount Pictures release got an early start in Australia last weekend.
"Fast Five" earned $45.3 million internationally after expanding to 14 markets from four last weekend. It opened at No. 1 in each of the 10 new markets, including Russia ($11.5 million), Germany ($10.2 million) and Spain ($6.3 million). Its foreign total stands at $81.4 million.
The strong performances of the two action films suggest a strong summer for the Hollywood studios, which have suffered a dismal year so far. Ticket sales in North America are off 17 percent and attendance is down 18 percent from 2010. Universal, newly controlled by Comcast Corp, had the smallest market share of the six major studios last year. It has enjoyed a decent 2011 because it distributed the hit cartoon "Hop."
Boasting a price tag of about $125 million, "Fast Five" reunites franchise stars Vin Diesel and Paul Walker in a high-octane series of car chases set in the slums of Rio De Janeiro. It easily crushed the old mark for the best opening of the year -- $39.2 million -- set two weekends ago by "Rio," a cartoon also set in the Brazilian city. "Fast Five" is actually the strongest new release since "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part I" opened to $125 million last November.
Universal said "Fast Five" set a new company record, surpassing the $72.1 million bow of "The Lost World: Jurassic Park" in 1997. Figures are not adjusted for inflation.
The franchise originated in 2001 as "The Fast and the Furious," and hit top gear with the 2009 installment, which earned $353 million worldwide.
Two other new releases crashed in North America during the weekend. The Walt Disney Co teen comedy "Prom" came in at No. 5 with $5 million, and Weinstein Co's animated sequel "Hoodwinked Too! Hood Vs. Evil" at No. 6 with $4.1 million. They had been expected to open in the $7 million to $9 million range.
"Prom" marks the first film given the green light by Walt Disney Studios Chairman Rich Ross after he was given the job during a restructuring in October 2009. It cost about $8 million to make. Disney hopes to do better when its fourth "Pirates of the Caribbean" film opens on May 20.
Weinstein, the closely held studio behind best picture Oscar winner "The King's Speech," said it was disappointed by the opening for its Hansel and Gretel story, but it had limited financial exposure. The company received a distribution fee from the film's producer, a firm run by vodka mogul Maurice Kanbar. The Hollywood Reporter described "Hoodwinked" as "one of the most obnoxious and least necessary animated films of the century thus far."
After two weeks at No. 1, "Rio" fell to No. 2 with $14.4 million; the total for the Fox cartoon rose to $103.6 million. Fox is a unit of News Corp.
Reporting by Dean Goodman; Editing by Paul Simao