September 3, 2013 -- Industry insiders are calling the Spanish-language film “Instructions Not Included” this season’s big surprise hit, the movie that snuck up on everyone. It’s not such a big surprise to some parts of the American population, though.
The comedy-drama directed by Eugenio Derbez that opened last Friday marks the biggest opening ever for a Spanish-language film in North America. The film took in $10 million and ranked fifth at the box office, even though it only screened in a fraction of the number of screens that played big-studio movies like “The Butler” and “One Direction: This Is Us.”
“Instructions” did make the number one spot on another list: It was highest grossing film per theater over the holiday weekend. “Instructions” averaged a whopping $22,594 per screen, compared to “One Direction,” which only averaged $5,777 per screen.
“Instructions” is also the highest-grossing film in the history of Pantelion Films, a joint venture of Lionsgate and Televisa.
Many moviegoers who wanted to see the film in one of 347 theaters nationwide had to wait in long lines. In South Gate, a predominantly Mexican-American neighborhood outside of Los Angeles, people waited an hour in line to secure tickets to the sold-out shows. The film is playing in about 60 screens in Los Angeles, home to the largest share of the United States’ Mexican population.
The film, which includes some English-language lines and subtitles, seems to be resonating with other groups too. The film did “phenomenally well” in places like New York City, Miami and Minnesota, according to the film’s distributor.
Derbez, a legendary Mexican actor with a career that spans more than three decades, wrote, directed and produced "Instructions."
“People have grown one with Eugenio Derbez and he knows his audience,” Edward Allen, Pantelion’s chief operating officer, told Fusion. “He was able to tailor this film to his audience -- which I’m going to say includes most people who have watched Univision in the last 10 years."
“People have taken their abuelitas [or] their moms, or moms are taking teenage sons to see the film,” Allen added. “Everyone is participating and it really goes across the entire spectrum of the family.”
“Instructions Not Included” follows a bachelor (played by Derbez) in Acapulco, who has to get his life together after an ex-girlfriend drops by and leaves a baby girl with him. Years later, the mother reappears to take the girl back.
The two-hour film has one foot planted in Mexico and the other in the U.S., an experience many Latinos have experienced. The movie also deals with family separation, another issue many Latinos are intimately familiar with.
One study estimates there are at least 5,100 children in foster care around the U.S. because their parents have been detained or deported by immigration officials, according to the Applied Research Center.
“Immigration is certainly a big topic, but people want to aspire, they don’t often want to be reminded of their status,” Allen said. Immigration is "one aspect of the movie, when the protagonist comes to the U.S. looking for the girl’s mom -- but he ends up doing well here, economically speaking, and you’re never reminded of his status as an immigrant. That’s secondary."
“The theme that is front and center in the film is about a father’s love for his child,” Allen added.
Latinos in the U.S. are loyal moviegoers, even though they still don’t see themselves in leading roles on screen, recent Nielsen study found.
That same study found going to the movie theater seems to carry a particularly positive cultural significance for Latinos. Members of that group were considerably more likely than non-Latinos to view movie-watching as a way to spend time with their family and friends.
The last time a Latino actor won a best actor Academy Award was in 1950, when Jose Ferrer took the prize for his role in “Cyrano de Bergerac.” No Latina actress has ever won an Oscar for best actress.
Given the size of the Latino movie audience and the popularity of films like “Instructions Not Included,” that’s statistically likely to change soon.