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The 10 Biggest Opening Weekends for Foreign Language Films of All Time (Two of Which Happened This Weekend)

By Dustin Rowles | Box Office Round-Ups | September 3, 2013 | Comments ()


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It was a fairly quiet weekend at the box-office, I thought, because Getaway, Closed Circuit and the One Direction concert film were the only wide releases, none of which I expected much from. I typically track the box-office reports all weekend long in order to formulate a box-office trend piece on Sunday night (or in this case, Monday night because of the holiday), but I knew no one would bother with Getaway because who would possibly care, no one would bother with Closed Circuit because no one had ever heard of it (including the star of the movie, Eric Bana) and that, based on the failures of the recent Jonas Brothers concert film and the Katy Perry concert film that no one would likely bother with the One Direction concert movie, either.

I was right on two accounts. Getaway debuted at number 9 with $4.5 million, which was frankly more than I thought it would make, and Closed Circuit debuted at number 15, with $2.5 million (again, about $1 million more than I thought it would make). I was wrong, however, in the interest for a One Direction concert film as One Direction: This is Us debuted at number one over the weekend with $17 million, ahead of The Butler ($14.7 million, $79 million cumulative) and We’re the Millers ($12 million, $109 million cumulative. Rawson Thurber is no doubt pleased that Millers will surpass his Dodgeball’s $116 million take next week, so he can now brag about the Millers take during his fantasy football drafts, not that I would know anything about this).

Still, the huge, huge surprise of the weekend was from a movie that opened in only 317 theaters, a movie in fact that I’d never heard of. The Spanish-speaking Instructions Not Included debuted with a whopping $7.5 million, which is the fourth biggest debut of all time for a limited release movie. It’s also the fourth biggest debut weekend of all time for a foreign language film, although it opened in significantly fewer theaters than the three films ahead of it. Not for the last time, Instructions Not Included demonstrates the power of the Hispanic demographic in the United States. Hispanics make up 17 percent of the U.S. population now, but apparently, they also make up 26 percent of the moviegoing public, which certainly suggests studios will likely aim to better exploit that in the future.

It’s a huge number, and completely took me by surprise. It wasn’t the only impressive debut for a foreign-language film over the weekend, either, as Wong Kar Wai’s The Grandmaster — opening in 750 theaters — also put up solid numbers, debuting with $2.4 million. All told, that makes The Grandmaster the 10th highest grossing foreign-language debut of all time.

Here’s the complete list.

1. Hero: $18 million

2. Jet Li’s Fearless: $10 million

3. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: $8.6

4. Instructions Not Included: $7.5 million

5. Kung Fu Hustle: $6.7 million

6. Iron Monkey: $6 million

7. The Protector: $5 million

8. Pan’s Labyrinth: $4.5 million

9. Under the Same Moon: $2.7 million

10. The Grandmaster: $2.5 million



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Comments Are Welcome, Jerks Will Be Banned


  • LexieW

    My bf and I saw Instructions Not Included this weekend... it was sold out at the first theater we tried, and we even though we got to the second theater 40 minutes before the show, we stood in a line that wrapped around the theater. We were also the only non-Latinos there.

    The audience was totally captivated. They ROARED at the funny parts, and applauded the credits like it was a live performance.

    It was a really good film.

  • Jifaner

    I took my daughter to the 1D doc/concert movie and it was actually good. I was a little taken aback by how much I enjoyed it.

  • e jerry powell

    Ah, the power of wuxia is strong in this one...

  • N

    The Grandmaster expanded, not opened this weekend

  • Crystal O.

    Very cool, but I'm not surprised. I live in deep South Texas right on the Mexican border and I'd seen the trailer for this several times at the local theaters. I made it out Sunday morning for a matinee of "The World's End" and showings were completely sold out for "Instructions Not Included." It's definitely very cool to see the power of Latino movie-goers at the box-office. Hopefully, we can see more of this in the future.

    As a Hispanic woman, growing up in a Spanish speaking household, I'd love to be able to take my mom and dad to a Spanish language film on this side of the border (where it's at least a lot safer). I guess now I can. Hopefully this leads to more movie roles for Hispanics as well.

  • Enrique del Castillo

    I haven't heard anything about the quality of the movie (I have liked Derbez's TV show and his voice of Shrek's Donkey when I was younger, now I don't really care), but as a South American, this kind of thing, about the increased role of Hispanics in the US makes me interested and happy. I have many friends and relatives who moved to the US for better opportunities and seeing that their presence there contributes to somewhat affect or change the market.

  • They've been playing ads for Instructions Not Included pretty relentlessly on Univision, for about three months now. They almost never show trailers at all, so you kind of pay attention when they do. That, combined with the fact that Eugenio Derbez is a huge TV star in Latin America, and it kind of all makes sense. No matter how damn terrible that movie looked.

    Actually, it looked like a sappy novela, which is exactly what Univison's main demographic loves.

  • Helo

    Latin America's pretty big. My neck of the woods, we know who Derbez is, but he's hardly a draw. I suspect that his appeal loses steam the further south you go.

    (Personally, I don't find him funny, regardless of the cultural differences between Mexico and Panama.)

  • I find him incredibly annoying. But he's like the Adam Sandler of Mexico (and some of Latin America)--appealing to the lowest possible denominator with really stupid humor.

  • Mariazinha

    I'm from Brazil and have never heard of him.. It's pretty weird around here to. We take a lot more of pop culture from the US, then from other latin countries.. Don't know why.
    Surely the language is a part of it, but not all, given how much music and movies in english we consume...I never quite got it.

  • Helo

    It varies from country to country, a point I try to stress when talking to people outside of Latin America. Brazil is obviously a special case, given it's distinction as a former Portuguese colony surrounded by former Spanish colonies.

  • Fun fact: Eugenio Derbez was the voice of Donkey in the Spanish dub of Shrek. They publicized that like crazy.

  • PDamian

    Eugenio Derbez, the lead actor and director of this film, is one of Mexico's top actors, and a pretty big deal here in the States among Chicanos and Spanish-speakers. I knew the film was coming out because he's been all over Spanish-language TV talk shows, including the morning shows on the main networks like Univision and Telemundo. Additionally, the trailer has been in fairly high rotation on Spanish-language TV as well.

    It's fairly interesting to a Latina of my age to see how Latino media and entertainment in this country have developed on parallel tracks to Anglo media and entertainment. I'm old enough to remember when Spanish-language TV (at least in the San Francisco Bay Area) was four hours in the afternoon on a public access channel, right after Chinese-language news, and my non-English speaking grandparents lived for those four hours. By the 1990s, before they died, they had their choice of several Spanish-language channels and hundreds of shows. There are Latin music Grammys, theatre chains that show nothing but Latin American movies, and even MTV has a Spanish-language channel (MTV Trés). And yet, all of this happens without Anglos knowing a thing about it. It's entirely possible to be a giant star, a multimillionaire and the darling of Latinos in this country and in Latin America without the rest of the country even knowing you exist. Weird.

  • And then the final episode of some telenovela turns out to be the #1 most viewed TV show of the week and everyone wonders where the hell it came from. It's so strange.

  • Sean

    How odd...I have seen that entire list, save for Instructions Not Included. Most at an actual theater.

  • Patrick Devitt

    2 recent ones up there!

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