Modern Theaters, Hit Local Movies Push Mexico Box Office to New Heights

a la mala Mexican Cinema
Courtesy of Pantelion Films

With more plush, modern theaters, as well as local producers catering to the crowd, Mexico is becoming an emerging powerhouse at the box office — and that’s good news for the U.S. studios.

In the first quarter of 2015, Mexico turnstiles registered a 15.2% rise over the same period in 2014, totaling some $65 million. A more important number is ticket sales, which rose 9%, to more than 89 million in the first three months of the year, with Hollywood hits “Furious 7,” “The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water” and “Cinderella” accounting for 25 million of those admissions.

The nation has proven to be a strong outlet for tentpoles. “Furious 7” leads Mexican wickets this year, with $48 million. But the week’s top draw, “Avengers: Age of Ultron,” is gaining fast, knocking on the 700 million peso mark ($46 million). And “Mad Max: Fury Road” sped out to just under $3 million in its first week, on sales of nearly 800,000 tickets.

But although Hollywood dominates, local films have been steady earners so far this year.

Depending on the exchange rate, which has been volatile, Mexican films have broken the $1 million mark in 2015, with top grosser “A la mala,” a crowd-pleasing romantic comedy, reaching nearly $9 million on sales of 2.8 million tickets. Next is “Gloria,” a no-holds-barred biopic of pop icon Gloria Trevi and, riding the growing Latin American genre train, horror pic “File 253” (Archivo 253), both piling up more than $2 million.

“While our main source of income arrives via Hollywood, in recent years, local content has doubled its market share, from 5% of total ticket sales to around 10%,” noted Jose Leonardo Marti, of Mexico film org Canacine. “This is due to higher-quality films and a better understanding of our public.”

The exhibition market is dominated by two circuits, Cinepolis and Cinemex, which have both spent millions in theater upgrades, new locations and improved customer service.

Another draw for local audiences: some of the lowest ticket prices among nations with frequent filmgoers. According to Canacine, the average movie ticket for a new release in Mexico is $3.52, compared with $8.12 in the U.S., $9.29 in Canada, $5.77 in China, $5.60 in Argentina, $4.15 in Colombia and $3.81 in Peru.

With “Star Wars: Episode VII — The Force Awakens,” “Minions” and two hit Mexican sequels — a new “Top Cat” feature and the follow-up to horror hit “KM 31.” — still on the calendar, Canacine predicts that this will be a record year at the box office.