Will Ferrell Spanish-language pic scores at box office

While Lionsgate prepares for its release of “The Hunger Games” on thousands of screens Friday, its Hispanic-targeted label Pantelion scored a surprising coup of its own last weekend, with Will Ferrell starrer “Casa de mi padre” grossing $2.3 million in limited release.

That success — the third-largest Stateside bow ever at fewer than 600 engagements — caused competing bizzers to light up Lionsgate execs’ phones Monday morning. They were wondering how Lionsgate had pulled off one of the first Spanish-language releases to attract a population that still prefers Hollywood fare.

According to the Motion Picture Assn. of America, the number of frequent Hispanic filmgoers grew 54% from 2009 to 2010, while the number of male moviegoers in that group grew a whopping 142% during the same full-year stretch.

(MPAA will release its 2011 theatrical market statistics report on Thursday.)

“Hispanic audiences are very aspirational,” said Paul Presburger, CEO of Pantelion, the only major Hispanic-targeted label from a Hollywood studio.

Presburger said that Hispanic auds want to see Hollywood movies, “but they also feel under-represented in Hollywood.”

With durable comedian Ferrell starring — and competently speaking Spanish — it’s not surprising the pic attracted bigger auds than some of the other efforts to target Hispanics, with 68% of its opening from that group.

In addition to Ferrell fans, it lured Hispanic males, who gravitate to comedies, and fans of co-stars Diego Luna and Gael Garcia Bernal.

The film is the best performer yet for Pantelion, the Lionsgate and Grupo Televisa joint venture that launched in September 2010. Pantelion’s inaugural pic, “From Prada to Nada,” debuted at $1.1 million in 2011, ending with a domestic cume of $3 million. “Prada” opened at 256 locations vs. 382 for “Casa.”

Though Lionsgate distributes all Pantelion films domestically, the label houses its own marketing team — led by Brenda Rios — separate from that of its parent company. Sandra Condito heads up publicity for Pantelion, with Alex Fumero in charge of digital operations.

Paula Silver was hired by production company Nala Films as a marketing consultant for “Casa.”

The pic was marketed via Spanish-language TV stations, at live events such as soccer matches and at film fests.

Presburger attributed the film’s success, in large part, to the company’s relationship with Televisa, which supplies most programming for Hispanic TV network Univision. “If you watch Univision regularly, you would not have missed this movie,” Presburger said.

Pantelion also mounted an extensive marketing campaign beyond its TV affiliates. The company inked a promo deal with AT&T, which it said is one of the most successful mobile providers among Hispanics.

Pantelion promoted “Casa” during the Mexican and Colombian international soccer match held at the end of February in Miami. Ferrell appeared at the game, during which the film’s trailer played on the stadium’s jumbo-sized screen.

On the festival circuit, “Casa” screened at the South Beach Comedy Fest and SXSW, where organizers had to add a second screening of the film.

“This had all the ingredients to cross over,” Presburger said.

In the case of “Casa,” Presburger said Ferrell, who had only a limited window for promotional duties, provided strong appeal to audiences outside Hispanic communities.

Among Hispanic-skewing cities, “Casa” did well in places including Los Angeles and Harlingen, Texas. Lionsgate also handpicked markets like Boston and Seattle where Ferrell films consistently overperform.

Lionsgate has set 30 additional U.S. markets for “Casa” this weekend, extending the location count to approximately 500.

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