How Vin Diesel and friends stole the weekend box office

Usually by the time a franchise hits its fifth installment, it's running on fumes, but the Fast and the Furious series is still burning box office rubber. With its $86 million opening, Fast Five did doughnuts around the competition, setting a record for the biggest-ever April opening and emphatically ending Hollywood's prolonged box office slump. Ten years after the testosterone-soaked action franchise began, producer Neal Moritz admits he's as stunned as anyone: "Fast and the Furious was a $30 million street-racing movie. I never thought it would evolve to four sequels."

So why has Universal's Fast Five performed so furiously? Clearly the film's Ocean's Eleven-esque heist plot, which brought together many of the series' best-known characters to steal a Rio drug lord's loot, helped broaden its appeal, as did casting Dwayne Johnson as a new foe for Vin Diesel‘s Dom Toretto. "There's a wish fulfillment to seeing two big action stars going at it," says Diesel. "That's something we never got to see Schwarzenegger and Stallone do." The movie's generally strong reviews didn't hurt either. "I'd be lying if I said [the critical praise] wasn't gratifying," says Justin Lin, who has directed the last three installments. But costar Paul Walker says it all ultimately boils down to simple pleasures: "This franchise has never taken itself too seriously. At the end of the day, people want to escape and they want to see s— blow up."