Actor Vin Diesel admits he made a mistake turning down the second film in the "Fast & Furious" franchise because he didn't like the script.
"I realized later the audience didn't give a shit about what I thought about the script. They wanted Dom Toretto," Diesel said of his character, the leader of a team of street racers. It may seem like Diesel and his diverse crew drive Universal Pictures' longest-running and most lucrative franchise, now with its seventh film, but the action star chalks up its longevity to "the audience claiming it as its own."
As "Furious 7" opens Friday, its weekend haul could hit $122 million in U.S. and Canadian ticket sales, predicted Phil Contrino, chief analyst at Boxoffice.com.
That would set three box office records: biggest debut for the franchise; for the month of April, and any movie so far in 2015. The first six movies earned $2.4 billion combined.
The cast of the family friendly PG-13 franchise stoked interest on social media, posting photos from the set and taking fan feedback, Contrino said. The movie's Facebook page has 54 million likes, higher than any other active film franchise.
"It just listens to its fans and incorporates what they say into the movies," said Contrino. "In that sense, it is a very smart franchise."
"Furious 7" features the final performance of franchise star Paul Walker, who died in a car crash in November 2013 at age 40 before filming finished. The cast said the movie sends off Walker with a touching tribute.
At a time when Hollywood is under fire for lack of diversity, the franchise boasts one of the most diverse casts of any production - with blacks, whites, Hispanics, Asians and women all breaking stereotypes.
"It is such a multicultural cast that I think our fans and audience globally see themselves in us," said Jordana Brewster, who has played Dom's sister Mia since the first film.
There is also the thread of family and brotherhood among the street racers who fight evil in far corners of the world.
"Not just in the movies, but off camera, we are a real family and I think ... the whole world knows it to be true," said Tyrese Gibson, who plays Roman.
Fans may love the over-the-top, car-heavy action, but "Furious 7" director James Wan said "it is the characters you keep coming back for."