Credit: Marcia Perskie

Heading into Labor Day weekend, box office prognosticators were fixated on the impending battle between One Direction: This Is Us and Lee Daniels’ The Butler. But as it turned out, the story of the weekend wasn’t those films (or Ethan Hawke and Selena Gomez’s bomb, Getaway) at all. Instead, everyone was talking about the Spanish-language film Instructions Not Included, which stunned Hollywood with its muy bien $10.4 million debut from only 347 theaters. That’s by far the best debut ever for a Spanish-language film in the States, as well as the third best foreign language opening of all time, behind Chinese releases Hero and Jet Li’s Fearless, both of which opened in over 1,800 theaters.

The comedy, which stars Mexican superstar Eugenio Derbez (whom you may know from Adam Sandler’s Jack & Jill or Rob Schneider’s canceled sitcom ¡Rob!), tells the story of an Acapulco playboy whose life is rocked when an old fling leaves a baby on his doorstep. The feature notched a sizzling $29,823 per theater average — the best result in the Top 50 by a factor of four, and now distributor Pantelion, a company created in 2010 by Lionsgate and Latin American television conglomerate Televisa, plans on expanding the film into at about 550 theaters this weekend. It’s already the fledgling studio’s biggest success ever, having surpassed Will Ferrell’s Spanish-language comedy Casa De Mi Padre, which took in $5.9 million in America and $8 million worldwide.

“It’s a bit of a whirlwind for us,” says Pantelion CEO Paul Presburger “We started the company a few years ago, and I’ve always felt like we’re scratching the surface.” The exec says Pantelion had a hunch that Instructions, which cost just over $5 million to produce, would connect with moviegoers after a round of test screenings earlier this year, but he admits, “I would be fibbing if I said I was expecting a $10 million opening weekend.”

Here’s why he says the family film scored over Labor Day weekend:

Eugenio Derbez’s Press Tour

“We know what a big star Eugenio Derbez is,” says Presburger of his leading man, who also wrote and directed the film. Derbez has appeared in (and produced) popular Mexican TV shows like La familia P. Luche for the past decade, and his wedding to soap star Alessandra Rosaldo was broadcast live on Mexican television last year. “We kind of pulled out all the stops on this picture. We traveled Euginio to several different cities, did local news, he was on Univision kind of non-stop the week before the movie came out.” Univision had a vested interest in promoting the film. The lucrative channel has an exclusive deal to show Televisa programming in the U.S., and Televisa is a part-owner of Pantelion.

An Early U.S. Premiere

Most Latin American films premiere outside of the U.S. and then arrive here a few months later. But Instructions Not Included opened in the U.S., and got the jump on Mexico, where it won’t premiere until Sept. 20. Presburger says that combating online piracy was “certainly a consideration.” “We actually have done several Mexican movies, and we’ve done them as much as six months after Mexico, and it has been a huge problem for us,” he says. “We’ve gone back to trying to get as close to day-and-date as possible, but allowing for the talent to do publicity in both territories.” Now that Derbez has finished his publicity tour in the U.S., he’s headed to Mexico to give the film a marketing push down there.

Major Familia Appeal

Instructions Not Included is thriving with families — which makes sense since it shares DNA with Adam Sandler’s well-liked comedy Big Daddy. “When we’re looking at that Latino market, the family space is really important,” says Presburger. “Latinos are over-indexed in terms of buying movie tickets, representing 16 to 18 percent of the population, but 25 percent of movie tickets [because] they go as families.” The CEO says that the film played particularly well on Sunday, due to churchgoing kin heading to the theater after their services. (Indeed, the film ticked up 12.5 percent on Sunday, more than any other film in the Top 20.) According to Pantelion, crowds issued Instructions an “A+” CinemaScore, which means positive word-of-mouth will continue to drive business for weeks to come.

At this point, there’s no telling where Instructions Not Included will end its run, but feel free to make your prediction about its final gross in the poll and comments below.

Instructions Not Included
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