Fewer Juggernauts Push Mexico to All-Time Box Office Record (EXCLUSIVE)

comScore’s Luis Vargas analyzes a seeming paradox of the box office business

No manches Frida
Photo: Daniel Daza / Courtesy of Pantelion Films

GUADALAJARA, Mexico — Barnstorming juggernauts are the key to boffo box office results, right? Not always. Presented at Mexico’s Guadalajara Festival on March 12 by the Mexican Film Institute, Mexico’s record-breaking 2016 box office is a case in point, underscoring the complexity of calling final theatrical takings in any country.

All told, Hollywood, Mexican and other country movies earned a combined Pesos 15.25 billion ($782 million) box office at Mexican theaters last year, an all-time record, and 10.5% up on 2015. At 330.7 admissions, attendance in Mexico was another historic high, according to comScore stats.

But those records fell in a year when only two movies, “Captain America: Civil War” ($42.2 million) and “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice”($35.9 million) approached behemoth status in Mexico. Led by “Furious 7,” four movies punched those sort of numbers in 2015.

The top 10 titles in Mexico last year accounted for 30% of total box office, down from 38% in 2015, per comScore analysis.

“What we did not have in 2016 was what I call the ‘Summer effect.’ Whenever you have a year of Hollywood blockbusters, that’s 2.5 months less exhibition space for U.S. independent and Mexican movies,” argued Luis Vargas, comScore’s Mexico City-based executive director for Latin America.

In 2016, in contrast, “many more movies grossed more money,” driving box office results as a whole, as exhibitors were able to fine tune bows and holdovers, he added.

Underscoring this phenomenon is the extraordinary new strength-in-depth of Mexican movies.

Mexican movies’ total box office reached pesos 1.34 billion ($64.1 million) and admissions 30.5 million, both historic records, besting even 2013’s 30.1 million for Mexican movies when “Instructions Not Included” and “We Are the Nobles” set new records for national films’ box office in Mexico. But, in 2013, these two movies accounted for 80% of the local film industry’s total B.O.; in 2016, 12 movies contributed to that 80%.

“Last year’s numbers for Mexican productions are amazing,” Vargas said.

If Mexican movies’ box office share – 8.8% on grosses, 9.2% in admissions, for comScore – was below 2013’s (10.7% and 11.7%) it was only because total B.O. hit a historic high, Vargas said.

Reasons for Mexican movies’ B.O. surge cut several way.

“Alfonso Cuaron, Emmanuel Lubezki have shown what Mexican creativity is capable of,” Vargas argues, adding that he doesn’t hear Mexicans saying any more that they don’t want to see a film because it is Mexican.

Also, while state film funding has plunged elsewhere – think Spain, for example — or is now being thrown into doubt (Brazil), Mexico’s incentive system has proved effective and even looks set to increase in 2017. Almost all the highest-grossing movies in Mexico last year received support from Eficine tax breaks or Imcine programs, Vargas points out.

Above all, Mexico, as elsewhere, is “a product-driven market. We go to see good movies and we had good Mexican titles in 2016,” Vargas argues, citing Gustavo Loza’s “Don’t Blame the Kid” (Pesos 277.8 million; $15.4 million) a one-night stand pregnancy dramedy produced by “Instructions Not Included’s” Monica Lozano, and “No Manches Frida” (Pesos 222.3 million; $11.5 million) a Mexican re-version of 2013 box office hit “Fack ju Gohte.”

Earning Pesos 135.7 million ($7.1 million), chic flic “Treintona, Soltera y Fantástica” recalls the success of 2014’s “Get Married If You Can,” Vargas said. 2016 also saw “very good” animation titles, most notably “La Leyenda de Chupacabras,” (Pesos 100.1 million; $5.4 million), Vargas added.

Average location per Mexican film increased from 106 in 2015 to 142 a year later; Mexican movies’ average first weekend gross surged 82.7% from Pesos 2.7 million ($138,000) to Pesos 5.1 million ($262,000) pesos, Vargas adds.

These may be on of the most significant statistics of all. For years exhibitors in Latin America have thought shy of taking risks on usually low-performing local films.

The launch by Cinepolis, Mexico’s biggest cinema chain, of a distribution arm whose titles include mainstream family comedy “Padre no tan padre” and Jonas’ Cuaron’s crossover movie “Desierto” points to a new energy and outlet for Mexican movies.

One big question is if big international players will raise their investment in Mexican movies. Unlike in Brazil, Hollywood movies cannot benefit from tax breaks when investing in Mexican movies. U.S.-Mexico crossover business on select Mexican titles can, however, be encouraging.