'Furious 7' Box Office Success Banks on US Diversity

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in ,, at 4/09/2015 01:30:00 AM
New box office formula: fewer gringo actors = more moviegoers.
I am not much of a follower of the US film industry, but this story caught my interest for a number of reasons. To be honest, I haven't watched much of the Fast and Furious film franchise which now stretches to seven films. Still, they wouldn't be producing so many sequels  if there's no one to watch, right? Earlier on, there were doubts as to whether the latest installment would produce box office gold. First, it does not feature the late Paul Walker who has become synonymous with the franchise after his untimely early death in--unfortunately apropos--a car accident. Second, satiety was bound to set in sooner or later. How much can you do with the same formula of cars, speed and a dollop of criminality?

So many were surprised when the tally of Furious 7 was very impressive. Do people ever get tired of same old, same old? As it turns out, the correct answer is that the folks watching may be different from the ones before. In an increasingly diverse America where projections are for a white minority by mid-century, the producers of this film (Universal Studios) correctly bet on having a diverse cast to appeal to non-white American audiences. The end result is that 75% of viewers were non-whites. From the Hollywood Reporter:
An ethnically diverse cast is paying off in a big way for Furious 7. The Universal movie opened to a franchise-best $384 million over the weekend at the global box office, including $143.6 million domestically — the biggest debut since The Hunger Games: Catching Fire in November 2013 ($158 million). More impressive, its global bow was the fourth-best of all time.

According to Universal, 75 percent of the audience in North America was non-Caucasian, generally in line with previous installments. Hispanics, the most frequent moviegoers in the U.S., made up the majority of ticket buyers (37 percent), followed by Caucasians (25 percent), African-Americans (24 percent), Asians (10 percent) and other (4 percent).
The importance of on-screen diversity matching that off-screen cannot be understated:
"The importance of diversity of the ensemble cast in the Fast and Furious franchise has been an integral part of the success of the brand," said Rentrak box office analyst Paul Dergarabedian. "There is literally someone within the cast that is relatable on some level to nearly every moviegoer around the world, and this has paid big dividends at the box office and also in terms of how casting decisions will be made in the future for these types of large-scale action epics."

Dergarabedian and other box office pundits are hard-pressed to think of another franchise that is as ethnically diverse, even as Hollywood in general is criticized for a lack of diversity both behind and in front of the camera.

Furious 7's ensemble cast includes Vin Diesel, Michelle Rodriguez, Tyrese Gibson, Jason Statham, Dwayne Johnson and, of course, the late Paul Walker. Christopher "Ludacris" Bridges, martial artist Tony Jaa and Djimon Hounsou also star. "Someone that I admire quite a lot recently said this is a franchise that really looks like America, and there are characters that everyone can relate to. I think that's a big plus," said Universal president of domestic distribution Nicholas Carpou.
Quite possibly, the same electorate that chose Obama twice on the trot is also powering Furious 7 at the box office. Hollywood has not exactly been a paragon of diversity, so this phenomenon is a welcome one even if this movie genre isn't quite to my liking.