The Fate of the Furious has raced to the top of the box office chart – breaking an international record in the process.
The eighth film in the action thriller franchise took an estimated $532.5m (£424.7m) globally over Easter weekend.
The figure makes it the strongest worldwide debut ever – marginally overtaking the $529m (£421.8m) taken by Star Wars: The Force Awakens.
However, the film’s US takings were down sharply on the previous movie.
Furious 7 opened with $147.2m (£117.3m) in the US when it was released in 2015 – but the latest instalment of the series debuted with $100.2m (£80m).
The Fate of the Furious – titled Fast & Furious 8 in some territories – stars Dwayne Johnson and Vin Diesel, who said he felt “grateful, humbled and blessed” after the film’s success.
Why is the Fast & Furious franchise so popular?
Rhianna Dhillon, film critic and host of BBC Radio 4’s Seriously… podcast, said the success of the Fast & Furious franchise is down to its “universal appeal”.
“They’re films people of all ages can enjoy, because they have that pure, unadulterated escapism about them, children and adults alike are quite happy to watch things get blown up and smashed up,” she said.
“A lot of what drags movies like The Avengers down is the plot, and Fast & Furious isn’t trying to compete with those heavy, convoluted storylines. This is just cars smashing into each other and it’s okay to enjoy that.
“This franchise isn’t trying to be anything it’s not. Ultimately, from the bottom up, it doesn’t take itself too seriously.”
Dhillon said the diversity of the cast is one of the key reasons the film series has seen continued box office success.
“Hollywood really underestimates minority audiences,” she said. “For example, if you break down the figures, the Latino audience is huge, what with Vin Diesel’s following. I think that has so much to do with it, because not many films offer that.”
She added: “The franchise still attracts huge stars each time – this year as the villain we have Charlize Theron, there’s an appearance from Helen Mirren. These aren’t people you’ve never heard of, they have the most bankable movie stars in the world.
“And Dwayne Johnson has given the films a new lease of life – when you buy a star like him, you’re buying his fans as well.”
Despite the drop of nearly a third on the seventh film, the US performance of The Fate of the Furious is still pretty impressive – it accounted for nearly two-thirds of all US box office takings over the weekend.
Its nearest competitor was The Boss Baby, which took a further $15.5m (£12.4m) to land second place.
The film’s worldwide performance was boosted by opening in China on the same weekend as other major markets, unlike the Force Awakens, which did not start screening there until several weeks later.
The Fate of the Furious saw three-day takings of $190m (£151m) in China.
More chapters in the Furious franchise, which began in 2001, are planned for release in 2019 and 2021.
Confirming the drama will not return for any future series, he said: “That is it and there will be no more after this one, absolutely.”
The storyline of the final series has centred around the rape of Trish Winterman – played by former Coronation Street actress Julie Hesmondhalgh.
Chibnall explained: “When I thought about telling this story, the first thing I did, along with the people I work with, was go and talk to various people and charities who worked supporting survivors of sexual assault.
“We went to Dorset sexual assault referral centre and Rape Crisis and Survivors’ Trust, and the question I asked them was ‘Should we be telling this story in Broadchurch, is it an appropriate thing to do?’
“They were unanimous in their reply and said: ‘Yes, absolutely, you should, you must, because there’s an incredible amount of support out there for people who survive these crimes.'”
He added he was also keen for Colman and Tennant’s characters – DS Ellie Miller and DI Alec Hardy – to show exemplary behaviour when dealing with the case.
“I noticed Dorset Police put out a statement the other day in response to the programme saying ‘If you report [a rape] you will be believed by police’, so we wanted to show best practice by these extraordinary people that we’d met,” Chibnall said.
Plans for Doctor Who
Chibnall’s next job will be taking over the reins at Doctor Who, after Steven Moffat announced he would be leaving the programme.
The last series of the show to star Peter Capaldi as the Doctor began on BBC One on Saturday, with the opening episode attracting an average of 4.6 million viewers.
But Chibnall was reluctant to give too much away about what he has planned for the show when he takes over.
“It’s way too early to talk about Doctor Who. There’s still an amazing series to go out with Peter Capaldi,” he said.
“I’ve been thinking about it for a long time and we’re putting a team together. But for another year there is an amazing Doctor, there’s an amazing showrunner in Steven Moffatt and I’ve read the scripts for this series and they are phenomenal.”
S-Town, the gripping saga about life and death in Alabama, is the latest podcast to have notched up impressive listening figures. But podcasts on the whole still don’t seem to be breaking through to the mainstream.
Have you ever downloaded a podcast? And, if so, did you actually listen to it?
Podcasts have long been seen as the future of radio, a great way to pass the time on a long commute or catch up on a radio show you’ve missed.
They’ve been growing in popularity since the early noughties, when Apple’s iPod first hit the market (“podcast” is a cross between the words “iPod” and “broadcast”).
But, 15 years on, they remain a relatively niche pursuit.
“I don’t know whether podcasting is a mainstream proposition,” says Matt Hill, co-founder of the British Podcast Awards.
“Its core strength at the moment is in narrowcasting. It creates audio content for niche groups of people, but it does so really effectively.”
According to Rajar, the body that monitors radio listening, 9% of adults in the UK say they download podcasts per week – around 4.7 million people.
Which is a fair few – but not much compared with the 90% (or 48.7 million adults) who listen to live radio every week.
Kate Chisholm, radio critic for The Spectator, says: “Podcasting is arguably something for metropolitan people, maybe in their 20s and 30s.
“I don’t think it’s something that particularly seeps out to the mainstream. On one level I would say that’s changing, but then how many people who live on my street would be downloading podcasts? I’m not sure it would be very many.
“They’d listen to Classic FM or Radio 2… but a lot of people look at me blankly when I mention Serial.”
What is a podcast?
A podcast is a piece of audio made available online, which the listener typically downloads to their smartphone or laptop
They are very often speech-based because of restrictions on the use of commercial music
Podcasts differ from live radio because you can choose to listen to them when you want, rather than in an allotted timeslot – kind of like how Netflix or iPlayer differ from live TV
They can be bespoke specialist content or simply a downloadable version of a previously-broadcast radio show
Serial, of course, is the biggest podcast success story to date – its makers say it has had more than 250 million downloads.
That certainly sounds like an impressive figure – albeit perhaps not as much as it might first seem.
It doesn’t mean 250 million different people have downloaded Serial, but rather that its 26 episodes have been downloaded a total of 250 million times.
Plus, the RAJAR figures show only about two thirds of downloaded podcasts are actually listened to.
“Serial made 2015 the year of the podcast,” says Julia Furlan, podcast producer for BuzzFeed.
“Everybody was saying at that time that podcasting had finally made it, but it’s still hard for a lot of people to find and download a podcast, hard to share it, it’s still something we’re figuring out as medium.”
But, she says: “Since Serial, you do see different names on the top 10 podcast chart, you see larger media companies and brands investing significant money in making new content.
“And I do think those are indicators that there is growth, that Serial did something really big.”
S-Town, released in March and made by the team behind Serial, is the latest podcast to hit the headlines.
The documentary begins with a suspected murder in Woodstock, Alabama, and unfolds around its central character – an eccentric local named John B McLemore.
It was downloaded 16 million times in its first week – although again that number is spread across seven episodes, which were all made available at once.
Other recent podcast success stories include Russell Brand’s new show on Radio X – which marked his return to radio after an eight-year absence.
The high listening figures of the few breakthrough hits are what make podcasts a very attractive prospect to advertisers.
Hill says: “Even though the audiences are quite small, those shows do very well with advertisers because those listeners are interested in one specific area – it’s exactly who they want to market to.
“Podcasting is starting to educate advertisers that there is an upmarket audience that would be interested in intelligent speech programming and would be happy to hear advertising alongside it.”
Many of these advertisers offer podcast listeners discount codes, because then they can monitor where their new customers are coming from.
Which means many podcasts are effectively working on commission – and only become financially viable if companies can see a demonstrable boost in customers.
But few podcasts become popular enough to attract advertisers at all. There are just so many of them around – with no quality control.
“I think podcasts are very different from mainstream broadcasting, it’s like the difference between blogging and print,” says Chisholm.
“Like blogs, the quality of podcasts is variable. There’s a big difference between people who blog and people who actually get published.”
Part of the problem facing podcasts is that, in general, audio doesn’t tend to go viral.
Have a scroll down your Facebook feed, and the chances are there will be several videos of dogs, cats, babies, pranks, fails and Kermit the Frog memes.
But people rarely share a great radio programme they’ve heard.
“The internet is a place that you take in with your eyes, it’s a visual medium,” Furlan says.
“I also think that downloading a podcast is quite hard, people think, ‘Oh, I’m subscribed to this, what does that mean? How long is a season?’ All of these things are unhelpful for the industry at large.”
With such a slow rate of growth, podcasts may become the minidisc of the radio industry – sold as the future but eventually becoming redundant. Or they may just take time to become established.
“Every year the listening figures creep up, but they haven’t done a Netflix and exploded, it’s slow burn,” Hill says.
“But the thing about a slow burn is it’s not a flash in the pan – those are the things that stick around.”
Furlan goes further: “I think absolutely podcasts will break through in the years to come.
“If you take into account how everybody has a smartphone now, smart cars are on their way, the more technology opens up, the more we are going to see podcasts in our daily lives.”
Actor Clifton James, who appeared as Sheriff JW Pepper in two James Bond films, has died at the age of 96.
He died close to his childhood home in Gladstone, Oregon, on Saturday due to complications from diabetes.
James was best known for appearing alongside Sir Roger Moore in the Bond films Live and Let Die and The Man with the Golden Gun during the 1970s.
His daughter Lynn said: “He was the most outgoing person, beloved by everybody.”
She added: “I don’t think the man had an enemy. We were incredibly blessed to have had him in our lives.”
In 1973 James played Louisiana sheriff JW Pepper in Live and Let Die, in which he made a memorable appearance in a chaotic boat chase sequence.
His character proved so popular he was asked to reprise the role in 1974’s The Man with the Golden Gun, involving another car chase, in Thailand, and a scene where he gets pushed into water by a baby elephant.
Paying tribute on Twitter, Sir Roger wrote: “Terribly said to hear Clifton James has left us. As JW Pepper he gave my first two Bond films a great, fun character.”
You only appear twice
While many James Bond characters either feature once or have recurring roles in the series, Sherriff Pepper is among a select few characters to have featured in just two different titles.
Here are four others:
Sylvia Trench: A love interest of Bond played by Eunice Gayson. She appeared alongside Sir Sean Connery in the 1962 film Dr No, as well as 1963’s From Russia with Love.
Jaws: One of Bond’s most famous villains, Jaws was played by the late Richard Kiel. The character appeared with Sir Roger Moore in the 1977 film The Spy Who Loved Me and later in 1979’s Moonraker.
Valentin Zukovsky: An ex-KGB agent turned Russian mafia head who was portrayed by Robbie Coltrane. He featured with Pierce Brosnan in the 1995 film GoldenEye and 1999’s The World is Not Enough.
Rene Mathis: A French intelligence operative played by Giancarlo Giannini. He appeared alongside Daniel Craig in the 2006 film Casino Royale and 2008’s Quantum of Solace.
James grew up just outside Portland during the heart of the Great Depression, in which his family lost all their money.
He served as a soldier with the US Army in the South Pacific during World War Two, for which he was awarded two Purple Hearts, a Silver Star and a Bronze star.
His acting career spanned five decades and included stints on stage, TV and film.
Other credits include appearing in the TV series Dallas and films Superman II and The Bonfire of the Vanities.
His last film credit was a 2006 comedy, Raising Flagg but he had also been cast to star in an upcoming independent film called Old Soldiers, according to IMDB.
It’s been another busy week in the world of entertainment.
The first official photo of the new Bake Off line-up was released, University Challenge came to its nail-biting conclusion, the new editor of British Vogue was revealed and Sesame Street’s first autistic character made her debut.
Here’s a round-up of some things you might have missed:
Star Wars creator George Lucas called the late Carrie Fisher “the boss” in an emotional tribute speech.
Speaking at Florida’s Star Wars Celebration exhibition, he said the Princess Leia star was “very strong, smart, funny, bold, tough”.
“She was brilliant, and obviously we will all miss her, but she will always be the princess who took command and never backed down,” he added.
The actress died last year aged 60, days after suffering a cardiac arrest.
Lucas added: “She was the boss. It was her war, and when I cast it, I said I want somebody young to play the part.
“When Carrie came in, she was that character. There are not very many people like her. They are one in a billion. For this particular part, it was absolutely perfect.”
The celebration also saw other stars from the film series take to the stage, including Fisher’s daughter, Billie Lourd, who will appear in the upcoming Star Wars: The Last Jedi, which is released in December.
“My mom, like Leia, was never afraid to speak her mind,” she said.
Star Wars Celebration is a fan experience which features interview panels, exhibitions, merchandise stalls and autograph signing. Here are some of the other stars from the sci-fi extravaganza who took part: