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GUADALAJARA – Could Mexico become the new France?

Sky-rocketing 11.5% to $901.6 million in 2013, Mexico became the biggest theatrical market in Latin America, and the tenth largest in the world.

Now, at least for early 2014, it’s done it again.

At 2.154 billion pesos ($162.4 million) through March 18, total 2014 box office is 8.3% up year-on-year, per Rentrak.

The same two factors powering Mexico’s 2013 hike explain its early 2014 surge.

“A first driver is Mexico’s screen and location count,” said Luis Vargas, Rentrak managing director, Mexico, Colombia, Venezuela and Central America.

5,343 and 592 year-end 2012, Mexico’s screen/location park has risen to 5,578 and 620 respectively, he added.

Many of Mexico’s cinema theaters are first-class, even by U.S. standards. Its major circuits continue to invest in upgrades. Cinepolis, for instance, adopted the Next Big Thing, 4DX immersive technology, before any U.S. circuit, and now operates 15 4DX screens in Mexico; Cinemex now offers served-to-seat concessions in all its theaters, not just VIP screens, at normal ticket prices.

“When you go to the cinema in the U.K. or U.S., you go to see a movie; in Mexico, cinema-going is an experience where audiences love to be treated special,” Vargas said.

Secondly, while not hitting the extraordinary heights of 2013’s “We Are the Nobles” ($26.25 million) and “Instructions Not Included” ($46.1 million), a trio of Mexican movies punched standout first-quarter results, Vargas said.

Produced by Alameda Films’ Daniel Birman Ripstein, distributed in Mexico – as in the U.S. – by 20th Century Fox, and the big screen debut of megastar TV comic Andres Bustamante, Emilio Portes’ “El crimen del Cacaro Gumaro,” a village-cinema-set comedy, grossed 43.2 million pesos ($3.3 million) through March 19, per Rentrak. That’s the seventh-best opening weekend ever for a Mexican film.

Launched Feb. 14, chic-flic “Get Married If You Can” has hit 159.2 million pesos ($12.0 million) –on course to pass “The Crime of Father Amaro” as the third highest-grossing Mexican movie in history.

Released Jan. 17, the 68.9 million peso ($5.2 million) gross for Mexico’s “Que le dijiste a Dios?” has become the biggest musical ever in Mexico, besting the likes of “Chicago” and “Les Miserables,” Vargas said.

Mexico’s early year local-pic surge plays off various factors. One,Vargas argued, is timing. Launching early year, Mexican movies avoid a smackdown with family-skewed Hollywood juggernauts such as “The Avengers” ($61.8 million) and “Toy Story 3” ($59.4 million), the biggest movies ever in Mexico.

Then there’s broadcaster backing. Videocine, the film distribution arm of Televisa, distributed both “Married” and “Dijiste?” as “Instructions Not Included” before them.

The biggest TV group in the Spanish-speaking world boasting a 65% free-to-air Mexican market share, radio networks and newspaper outlets, Televisa packs a promotional punch that even Hollywood studios cannot match.

The large question now is: Can Mexico sustain the momentum?

“We’re at a point of inflexion,” Vargas argued. “The exhibition sector is cutting-edge. Only 6% of Mexican municipal districts have cinema theaters.36 in 2012, Mexico’s distributor ranks swelled to 41 a year later. The real question is Mexico production sector. The government has created strong financing mechanisms. What producers need are good stories: That is the challenge.”

Bets are now on – it’s one of the industry’s hot-button issues – about what films, if any, can come close to “Instructions Not Included.”

Vargas has his own candidate: Jorge Ramirez Suarez’s upcoming “Guten Tag, Ramon,” about a Mexican teen who flies to Germany, and finally finds friends, a kind of family, dignity and respect.

“Like ‘Instructions Not Included,’ it’s aspirational, about someone who betters himself. And it combines masterfully the two film types Mexicans look for most: Comedy and drama,” Vargas explained.