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‘Instructions Not Included': How Pantelion Sparked a Spanish-Language Breakout at the Box Office (Video)

Analysis: Lionsgate and Pantelion Films leveraged their Televisa connection and Mexican dervish Eugenio Derbez

Lest anyone think studios can toss Spanish-language hits into U.S. theaters and expect Latinos to show up, consider how much prep, marketing — and previous pain — went into this weekend’s stunning $10 million  success of Mexican comedy “Instructions Not Included.”

“I’ve been telling my team all along that we’re going to have the breakout and it’s great to finally see it happen,” said Paul Presburger, president of Pantelion Films, a joint venture of Lionsgate and Mexican TV titan Televisa formed three years ago to target the growing Hispanic market.

It was no sure thing: Neither of Pantelion’s previous Spanish-language releases – the Eva Mendez film “Girl in Progress” and “No Eres Tu, Soy Yo” – cracked $3 million U.S. (They also put out the Will Ferrell comedy “Casa De Mi Padre,” which flamed out with under $6 million last year.)

Pantelion never wavered from its course — Hispanics make up 17 percent of the U.S. population, and accounted for 26 percent of frequent moviegoers last year, according to the according to the Motion Picture Assn. of America.

“We’ve believed in this market all along, and I think this movie shows the strength of what we’re doing,” Presburger told TheWrap.

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The family film starring popular Mexican comedian Eugenio Derbez has yet to play in its home country; in fact, the U.S. was the first territory to see it, which may have helped its prospects here. Its $10 million weekend was the highest debut ever for a Spanish-language movie in the U.S. — made made more remarkable by the fact that it played in just 347 theaters.

That’s an average of $28,818 per location. To put that in perspective, “One Direction” brought in $18 million over the four days but did it on 2,735 screens — $6,581 per theater. “The Butler” took in $20 million from 3,330 theaters for a $6,009 average.

On a modest $5 million budget and the rest of the world to go, “Instructions Not Included” looks like the biggest winner over the Labor Day holiday.

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That success has a lot to do with Derbez, who wrote, produced, directed and starred in “Instructions.” He plays an Acapulco playboy who heads to L.A. to search for a former fling who has left a baby on his doorstep. He takes the child with him and they don’t find the mother, but he finds a new life as a Hollywood stuntman, and little Maggie becomes his on-set coach.

The 52-year-old Mexican comic is at the peak of his popularity in Latin America — and Pantelion leveraged that and its tie-in with Televisa to maximum effect.

The marketing campaign focused almost exclusively on Hispanic adults aged 18-49 and kicked off in July, when Derbez received a lifetime achievement award on “Premios Juventud,” an annual awards show on the Univision network that drew 10 million viewers. Since then he’s made numerous guest appearances on network’s shows spent the last two weeks touring the U.S. to promote the film.

The storyline and the incredibly cute Loreto Peralta – who plays the little girl – struck a major chord with audiences, who gave it an “A+” CinemaScore, the first since the Jackie Robinson biopic “42’ achieved the feat in April.

Pantelion targeted states with large Hispanic populations like California and Texas in its opening, and hopes to expand “Instructions” into about 500 theaters next weekend.  But even in the realm of Hispanic audiences, it will have to do some “crossing over” to keep up the momentum. Hispanic audiences, after all, are comprised of not only Mexicans, but Cubans in Florida, Puerto Ricans in New York, etc.

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It played well in some areas in which Mexican-Americans were not the primary audiences according to Presburger, and that has him confident that it will do so this weekend when it plays more broadly.

And what about the English-speaking mainstream? The film has English subtitles — can the success of “Instructions Not Included’ create enough buzz for general audiences to give it a try?