'Fast Five' Poised for $70 Million Opening at Weekend Box Office

Fast Five: Universal; Thor: Paramount
"Fast Five," left, and "Thor"

Meanwhile, Kenneth Branagh's "Thor," starring Chris Hemsworth, opens internationally, a week ahead of its domestic debut.

Universal's event movie Fast Five races into North America just after 12:01 a.m. Friday, playing in hundreds of midnight shows across the country.

The strength of Fast Five's early debut overseas -- the action pic has grossed $31.5 million from four countries in its first seven days -- bodes well for its domestic chances.

This year, big openings at the U.S. box office have been missing in action. Fast Five is the first title that has a shot at grossing at least $70 million, and probably more, although it could be hurt by the ongoing box office slump.

The previous film in the franchise, 2009's Fast & Furious, opened to $71 million domestically. Overseas, Fast Five has done bigger business than Fast & Furious in each of the four territories in which it opened last weekend: Australia, the U.K., New Zealand and Korea.

Universal needs a live-action hit. Fast Five cost $125 million to produce after production credits and tax breaks, according to the studio. (Others put the original budget at $150 million.)

In another sign of Fast Five's early strength, the film has been beating Paramount and Marvel Studios' superhero tentpole Thor in Australia, where both films opened last weekend. Box office observers expect Fast Five to outdo Thor in certain markets since it is a known and well-loved action brand.

Fast Five has grossed $14.5 million in Australia, while Thor has brought in $9.1 million (Fast Five had a one-day jump on Thor).

But Thor is no wallflower. Directed by Kenneth Branagh and starring Australian Chris Hemsworth, the superhero film did significantly more business than Paramount/Marvel's Iron Man, which Paramount considers a great sign.

After Fast Five, Thor will be the other big headline this weekend at the worldwide box office.

Thor is opening in earnest internationally a week ahead of its domestic debut on May 6, seeking to take advantage of the overseas May Day holiday as well as to have more playtime on 3D screens before Disney's Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides opens May 20.

Thor will have a much bigger footprint than Fast Five overseas since it is opening in most of the world, China and Japan (Fast Five is rolling out more slowly).

Iron Man debuted to $82 million at the international box office, although that included China grosses. There are several other factors that could prevent Thor from reaching Iron Man's opening level, including the fact that Thor will face competition from Fast Five in Germany, Russia and Spain, where the Universal pic bows this weekend.

Thor -- also starring Natalie Portman and Anthony Hopkins -- has been receiving largely positive reviews; ditto for Fast Five.