The budget for “Fast X,” the tenth film in Universal’s lucrative “Fast & Furious” film series, has ballooned to $340 million, according to people familiar with the production. That’s a 70% increase over the reported $200 million budget for 2021’s “F9: The Fast Saga,” easily the most expensive entry in the action series that has generated $6.6 billion in worldwide ticket sales.
The higher price tag, which affects tax incentive compensation, can be blamed on several elements of the budget breach: salary increases for series star Vin Diesel and the rest of the franchise’s crew, general increases in production costs caused by global inflation and fees for pandemic testing requirements set out in safety protocols. of COVID-19.
Combine this with the marketing budget required for international films like “F&F,” and the theatrical earnings for “Fast X” could be much lower than previous installments – and perhaps not at all. And since the “Jurassic World” trilogy just wrapped and the “Fast” series is set to end after its planned 11th installment for 2024, the studio will need to redouble its efforts to develop new supporting franchises while leaning on lower-budget projects that may have higher profit potential. (This approach could get a big boost from a planned merger between Jason Blum and James Wan’s horror-focused production companies, which will have an initial deal with Universal.)
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Fast X could still beat the worldwide total of $726 million from “F9” – especially since COVID-19 won’t be much of a factor in keeping audiences from hitting theaters next summer. But with a break-even point likely to be in the $500-550 million range, “Fast X” will have to post a higher gross to get the same theatrical profit as “F9.”
The transformation of “Fast & Furious” from a series of street racing movies into an explosive stunt show has been one of the main pillars of Universal’s theatrical success of late. Starting in 2015, the studio saw the peak of the “F&F” franchise with the worldwide gross of $1.5 billion, Furious 7, as well as the successful revival of the “Jurassic Park” franchise with the film “Jurassic World,” which grossed $1.6 billion. He produced two more versions that also reached the billion dollar mark.
Since then, “F&F” and “Jurassic” have provided consistency of support to Universal’s slate — last summer’s “Jurassic World: Dominion” grossed $376 million domestically and $1 billion worldwide — as the studio has created a diverse group of studio and maker partners. Movies Who can provide plenty of horror, animation and original movies with theatrical potential at a lower budget level.
In 2023 and beyond, Universal will have to rely on that diversity for continued profits as the “Jurassic World” trilogy is now finished and the “Fast & Furious” is only planning two more movies.
If F&F has already lost its profit potential as production costs spiral, Universal’s strongest return on investment in the future will come from elsewhere in a stable IP. While Universal representatives declined to comment for this story, studio insiders were particularly optimistic about animation studio Illumination, which is releasing next year’s “The Super Mario Bros. Movie.”
Following the success of Paramount’s “Sonic the Hedgehog” films, Universal is confident Illumination’s take on Nintendo’s mascot can bring families and gamers in droves. While a global run of more than $750 million is unlikely, Illumination has consistently produced successful films with production budgets under $100 million, so on-stage gross margins will be stronger for both “Mario” and “Despicable Me 4” for 2024.
Add the in-action DreamWorks Animation sequels to “Puss in Boots,” “Trolls,” and “Kung Fu Panda,” Blumhouse with its consistent small-budget horror formula, and deals with original filmmakers like Jordan Peele and Chloé Zhao, and Universal is lining up a lot of bets. On films that could be solid financial winners at half the cost – even if they’re not likely to become multi-billion dollar blockbusters like “Jurassic World.”
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In the best-case scenario, Universal’s annual theatrical grosses could be heading for a decline in the middle of the decade after “Fast & Furious” ends. Since “Jurassic World” began, Universal’s lowest non-COVID annual domestic gross was $1.3 billion in 2019, the year in which “F&F” spin-off Hobbs & Shaw was the most profitable with $174 million domestically and $760 million worldwide. Future annual totals could drop to nearly $1 billion if Illumination and/or DreamWorks do not generate $200 million more in domestic product and less original movie revenue than their pre-pandemic counterparts.
But barring multiple bombshells like 2019’s ill-fated musical “Cats” or 2018’s steampunk thriller “Deadly Motors,” Universal can squeeze steady levels of box office earnings as it reduces its annual production spending on expensive props. And if an Illumination or DreamWorks family movie becomes a surprise hit like The Secret Life of Pets, which crossed $350 million domestically and $850 million globally in 2016, Universal might avoid a recession.
Of course, Universal might also decide that three “Jurassic World” movies — or 11 “F&F” movies — aren’t enough. This year’s “Jurassic World: Dominion” proved to be critically resistant, reaching $1 billion worldwide despite being widely panned by critics. And it’s hard to imagine any studio walking away from the franchise while still showing so much money-making potential.
In fact, while insiders say serious talks about greenlighting another “Jurassic” movie have yet to begin, series producer Frank Marshall told Collider back in 2020 that he expected the franchise to continue with new human heroes facing off against the dinosaurs on the big screen. Life finds a way, and so do the privileges granted.
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