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Furious 7 generates $143.6M
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LOS ANGELES (AP) — The high-octane “Furious 7” peeled out of the gates in its opening weekend, picking up a stunning $143.6 million from 4,004 locations to easily top the domestic box office, according to Rentrak estimates Sunday.

The expectation-shattering sum is a studio and franchise best for the homegrown car-obsessed series, which has continued to grow over the past few films.

“Furious 7,” now the ninth-biggest opening of all time, also unseats previous April record-holder “Captain America: The Winter Soldier,” which opened to $95 million on the same weekend last year.

While the “Fast and Furious” films have grown in popularity over the past three films, the mega-opening for “Furious 7” was also at least partially tied to audience interest in star Paul Walker, who died in a car crash in Nov. 2013 before the film was completed.

Production on “Furious 7” was halted while the filmmakers and Universal decided whether or not to proceed with the film. The team ultimately decided to delay the release from its originally scheduled July 2014 date.

“It probably created some curiosity, but, at the same time, (the film) fits in so well with the overall continuing saga of the ‘Fast and Furious’ franchise,” Nick Carpou, Universal’s president of domestic distribution, said of Walker.

“It’s a motivator, but it’s not by any means the prime motivator the see the movie,” he added.

There is also a sense that massive openings like “Furious 7” point to the creeping of summer blockbuster season, which seems to be starting earlier and earlier as studios try to stake their claim on prime dates.