SUNDAY AM: The heated-up domestic box office just got even hotter… The lesson is that Hollywood should never underestimate moviegoers’ tolerance for retread material. Even Universal knew when they announced a 4th installment of their worn-out street racing franchise that everyone else would say there was no life left. But they got the original 2001 cast together and made a true sequel that picks up the Fast & Furious story where it left off in The Fast And The Furious. (“New Model… Original Parts”.) The result was a jaw-dropping $30.5 million haul Friday and $24.7 million Saturday (only -19%) and estimated Sunday $17.3 from 3,461 theaters for an unexpectedly humongous opening weekend of $72.5M. (Which now includes the Thursday midnight showings of $1.8M.)

That’s a whopping 1/3 more than the studio thought possible, and now the biggest April opening ever by a mile (previous best was Anger Management‘s $42M in 2003) as well as the highest opening weekend of 2009 (besting Monsters v Aliens’ $59.3 million). Fast & Furious also had the franchise’s best opening weekend (2001’s The Fast And The Furious $40.1M, 2003’s 2 Fast 2 Furious $50.5M, 2006’s Fast And The Furious: Tokyo Drift $24M). It was also the best debut for a car-themed movie (passing Cars $60.1M). This just doesn’t happen like this, folks, even with a great marketing and distribution campaign supervised by Adam Fogelson: Hollywood is in shock.

What’s interesting is the movie that launched Vin Diesel, Paul Walker and Michelle Rodriguez is now saving their careers since Vin and Paul have been in a succession of film flops, while Michelle’s arrests could have lost her the Lost gig. They were directed by Justin Lin, who helmed The Fast And The Furious threequel Tokyo Drift — which also was written by Fast & Furious scripter Chris Morgan. And producer Neal Moritz produced all four in the franchise.

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peggy
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Fast & Furious also opened day and date in 32 overseas markets, and it looks to have made in excess of $30.1M internationally, bigger than the openings of all the films in the Fast and Furious franchise. The film debuted No. 1 almost everywhere including Germany, Austria, Spain, Mexico, Brazil, Peru, Venezuela, Denmark, Greece, Iceland, Israel, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Romania, Turkey, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines and Thailand. So, from the first weekend in theaters, Fast & Furious had a worldwide gross of $102.6M.

The No. 2 film that was last week’s top pic, DreamWorks Animation’s Monsters v Aliens, hung on for $8.8 million Friday (down only 45% from a week ago) and $14.3 million Saturday. The 3-D toon playing in a total 4,109 venues took in as much as $33.5M this weekend for a fresh cume of $105.7M. In case you didn’t notice, that’s $1o5+M at the box office just between #1 and #2 — when last year’s total was $90M all in. Total FSS will be $150M, a staggering +75% from last year. (No wonder movie moguls don’t want anyone knowing how much their studios are raking in the dough in this financial recession. Hard to argue they’re having it as tough as everyone else, no?)

The other opener this weekend are Miramax’s teen comedy Adventureland which, hurt by its R rating, only made $6M this weekend from 1,862 venues. The question is whether the Twilight girls turned out for Kristin Stewart. And Overture Releasing widened put R-rated Sunshine Cleaning into 479 dates for #10 and $1.8 million and a new cume of $4.7M.

Here is Friday’s Top 10
1. Fast & Furious (Universal) OPENER [3,461] Wkd $71M
2. Monsters v Aliens (DWA/Par) Week 2 [4,109] Wkd $33.5M, Cume $105.7M
3. Haunting In Conn (LG) Week 3 [2,732] Wkd $9.5M, Cume $37.2M
4. Knowing (Summit) Week 3 [3,323] Wkd $8.1M, Cume $58.2M
5. I Love You, Man (DW/Par) Week 3 [2,829] Wkd $7.8M, Cume $49.2M
6. Adventureland (Miramax) OPENER [1,862] Wkd $6M
7. Duplicity (Universal) Week 3 [2,522] Wkd $4.3M, Cume $32.3M
8. Witch Mountain (Disney) Week 4 [2,825] Wkd $3.3M, Cume $58.3M
9. 12 Rounds (WWE/Fox) Week 2 [2,331] Wkd $2.3M, Cume $9M
10. Sunshine Cleaning (Overture) Week 4 [479] Wkd $1.8M, Cume $4.7M