Need for speed drives sum­mer box of­fice in US

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - LIFE -

Trans­form­ers fran­chise raked in world­wide box of­fice

LOS AN­GE­LES — Hol­ly­wood’s love af­fair with automobiles con­tin­ues.

A look at July’s box-of­fice grosses shows three carthemed movies rac­ing to the Top 10: Trans­form­ers: The Last Knight ($128 mil­lion), Cars 3 ($146 mil­lion) and Baby Driver ($89 mil­lion).

While the rest of the world was slow to warm to cars, Amer­i­cans have em­braced them with a vengeance ever since Henry Ford’s rev­o­lu­tion­ary mov­ing assem­bly line made them af­ford­able.

And though China went on to be­come the largest au­to­mo­bile man­u­fac­turer, by far the long­est love af­fair with auto has been with the United States — Hol­ly­wood in par­tic­u­lar.

US TV host Jay Leno, whose 150-piece, mul­ti­mil­lion-dol­lar car col­lec­tion is leg­endary, says, “Cars are part of the Amer­i­can dream, and Hol­ly­wood gets that.”

Automobiles have been the go-to de­vice for thrills, chills, action and in­ti­macy. Hol­ly­wood starts our engines young, with fam­ily clas­sics like Dick Van Dyke’s Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (1968), then rolls into Pixar’ s lov­able 3-D an­i­mated phe­nom­e­non, Cars, Cars 2 and Cars 3, and picks up speed with the Her­bie — Love Bug tweener fran­chise (19682005).

The car mania was fur­ther fu­eled by films that in­spired a gen­er­a­tion of teenagers pack­ing a learner’s per­mit and yearn­ing for “roll” mod­els.

The low-bud­get, Os­carnom­i­nated Smokey and the Ban­dit (1977) peeled out with a whop­ping $127 mil­lion at the box of­fice and TV’s Dukes of Haz­zard, Knight Rider and Chips ruled the meta­phoric streets all through the 1980s.

Hol­ly­wood can ef­fort­lessly shift gears, with com­ing-ofage movies like the Ge­orge Lu­cas clas­sic Amer­i­can Graf­fiti (1972) and Penny Mar­shall’s Rid­ing in Cars with Boys (2001).

Given the im­por­tance of cars in daily life, is it any won­der that noth­ing grabs our at­ten­tion faster than a cat­a­strophic car crash?

Aykroyd and Belushi smashed 70 cars in the Blues Broth­ers (1980); Need For Speed (2014) was pur­ported to pile up a col­lec­tor’s ran­som of tor­tured steel, rang­ing from a Lam­borgh­ini Sesto Ele­mento and Bu­gatti Vey­ron Su­per Sport to a lean, mean McLaren P1.

And it’s no sur­prise that Paul Hag­gis drove off with a best pic­ture Os­car for Crash (2004).

Cars are end­lessly evoca­tive. Like the fac­tory molds that cre­ate them, we shape them in our own im­age, im­bu­ing them with every sym­bolic nu­ance un­der the sun.

As Vin Diesel so aptly puts it in The Fast and the Fu­ri­ous: “I live my life a quar­ter mile at a time. Noth­ing else mat­ters — not the mort­gage, not the store, not my team ... For those 10 sec­onds or less, I’m free.”

In Hol­ly­wood, cars are not just sexy sta­tus sym­bols or poignant plot de­vices — they are box-of­fice gold. Car-cen­tric fran­chises have rocked the toll­booth, rak­ing in mil­lions, even bil­lions, in rev­enues world­wide, such as the Trans­form­ers ($1.5 bil­lion) and the Fast & Fu­ri­ous ($1.5 bil­lion).

On the race­track, while Warner Bros’ Speed Racer may have run out of gas at $44 mil­lion, Ron Howard’s Rush hand­ily crossed the fin­ish line with $90 mil­lion, and Will Far­rell’s hi­lar­i­ous Tal­ladega Nights: The Bal­lad of Ricky Bobby flagged in $148 mil­lion.

“I’ve al­ways had a fas­ci­na­tion with cars and rac­ing. I love to get be­hind the wheel and get com­pet­i­tive ... It helps you fo­cus and ded­i­cate your­self to do­ing what’s needed,” says Ger­man car­en­thu­si­ast and Hol­ly­wood star, Ja­son Statham.

No mat­ter which car flick gets a green­light next, one thing is cer­tain: Hol­ly­wood feels the need for speed.

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