Disney (NYSE:DIS)/Dreamworks Studios' new racing film, Need for Speed, will hit theaters on March 14. The film is based on Electronic Arts' (NASDAQ:EA) hit video game franchise, and will star Aaron Paul (best known as Jesse Pinkman in AMC's (NASDAQ:AMCX) Breaking Bad) as wrongfully imprisoned street racer Tobey Marshall.

Will this new film draw in the same racing fans that made Comcast (NASDAQ:CMCSA)/Universal's The Fast and the Furious series a huge hit over the past 13 years? My answer is a resounding yes.

Let's take a look at three key reasons I believe that Need for Speed could be the next The Fast and the Furious, and how its success could benefit Disney.

1. Riding the coattails of The Fast and the Furious
The Fast the Furious is Universal's most successful franchise ever, grossing a combined $2.38 billion on a production budget of $569 million over six films:


Production Cost

Global box office

Rotten Tomatoes

The Fast and the Furious (2001)

$38 million

$207 million


2 Fast 2 Furious (2003)

$76 million

$236 million


The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift (2006)

$85 million

$158 million


Fast & Furious (2009)

$85 million

$363 million


Fast Five (2011)

$125 million

$626 million


Fast & Furious 6 (2013)

$160 million

$789 million


Sources: Boxofficemojo, Rotten Tomatoes.

Moreover, the films became more commercially successful following Tokyo Drift, which is regarded by most fans as the low point of the series, and started to garner more critical acclaim starting with Fast Five. However, the tragic death of series star Paul Walker in November 2013 has pushed the release of the seventh film, Fast & Furious 7, back to April 2015.

Fast & Furious 7. Source: Movieweb.com

Walker played lead character Brian O'Conner in five of the six previous films, and it's uncertain if the franchise can retain its momentum. However, Universal has already announced that the series will not end with Fast & Furious 7.

Yet the delay of Fast & Furious 7, which was originally scheduled to be released on July 11, has created a rare opportunity this year for Disney to launch a fresh new street racing franchise.

With Need for Speed, Disney could appeal to two kinds of racing fans -- those who love The Fast and the Furious, and those who love racing films in general, but have gotten lost in the Furious films' extensive lore, which spans six feature films, two short films, and a video game series.

2. A major following in video games
Whereas The Fast and the Furious started out as a film franchise before being adapted into video games, Need for Speed intends to do the reverse.

Need for Speed (1994). Source: Gamespot.

Need for Speed debuted in 1994, and over the course of the next two decades, the game would evolve under several studios such as Black Box and Criterion Games. The series has been a critical and commercial hit with gamers:



Units sold


NFS: Hot Pursuit (2010)

Criterion Games

5.43 million

88% (Xbox 360)

Shift 2: Unleashed (2011)

Slightly Mad Studios

1.16 million

83% (Xbox 360)

NFS: The Run (2012)

EA Black Box

3.86 million

68% (Xbox 360)

NFS: Most Wanted-A Criterion Game (2012)

Criterion Games

4.36 million

84% (Xbox 360)

NFS: Rivals (2013)

Ghost Games, Criterion Games

2.22 million

80% (PS4)

75% (Xbox One)

Source: Vgchartz, Metacritic.

Although sales of the game have notably waned over the past three years, the series still has enough of a following to be considered one of EA's top franchises. Therefore, its brand recognition among both older and younger gamers should boost the film's box office sales considerably.

3. The rise of Aaron Paul
Prior to his role as Jesse Pinkman on Breaking Bad, Aaron Paul was hardly recognized by most audiences, despite appearing in films since 2000.

However, five seasons of Breaking Bad, which won 10 Primetime Emmy Awards and two Golden Globe Awards, made Aaron Paul one of the most recognized actors in America. He went on to win two Emmy awards, and became one of TV's highest paid stars at $150,000 per episode.

The irony of Paul's success was that his character was supposed to perish at the end of the first season, but was saved by showrunner Vince Gilligan after he recognized the chemistry between Paul's Jesse Pinkman and Bryan Cranston's Walter White.

Jesse Pinkman and Walter White. (Source: AMC)

With nearly 1.7 million followers on Twitter, Aaron Paul has plenty of fans who are eagerly anticipating his first big budget film debut. His previous starring roles have been in lesser known dramas, such as Smashed (2012) and Decoding Annie Parker (2013).

During a sneak peek at the film in Boston, Paul highlighted two key points of the movie -- that it would not use any CGI, and that he was basing his performance on Steve McQueen's performance in Bullitt, the 1968 film best known for its genre-defining car chase through the streets of San Francisco.

Although Paul intends to channel a lot less Jesse Pinkman and a lot more Steve McQueen in Need for Speed, the film's trailer seems to be clearly aimed at Breaking Bad fans. Paul's last scene in the show, where he is seen speeding off into the night, looks a lot like this scene from the trailer.

Jesse Pinkman's last scene (L) and Tobey Marshall's trailer scene (R). (Source: AMC, Electronic Arts)

The bottom line
In conclusion, Need for Speed could be a major hit next month and launch a brand new franchise that could easily rival Universal's The Fast and the Furious.

Considering the success of The Fast and the Furious, the huge fan base of the video game series, and Aaron Paul's screen presence, I think the film could launch a major blockbuster franchise. For Disney, Need for Speed could be a massive new franchise that will complement its blockbuster Marvel films and its upcoming Star Wars and Indiana Jones films.

What do you think, dear readers? Will Need for Speed hit the nitrous and leave its competitors in the dust, or will it stall in the onramp? Let me know in the comments section below!

This article represents the opinion of the writer, who may disagree with the “official” recommendation position of a Motley Fool premium advisory service. We’re motley! Questioning an investing thesis -- even one of our own -- helps us all think critically about investing and make decisions that help us become smarter, happier, and richer.