By Ronald Grover
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - "Instructions Not Included," a Spanish-language film with English subtitles, generated $10 million in ticket sales over the four-day Labor Day weekend, a record for a Spanish film in the United States and a sign of the potential the Hispanic market represents for Hollywood.
The film, which stars 52-year-old Mexican TV star Eugenio Derbez as an Acapulco playboy forced to raise a baby girl left on his doorstep, ranked fifth among films in U.S. theaters, despite opening in scant 347 theaters, according to Hollywood.com.
As a result, it generated average ticket sales of $28,818 per screen, more than four times the average of "Lee Daniels' The Butler," the weekend's top film.
"No one saw this coming," said Paul Dergarabedian, president of the box office division of Hollywood.com. "A cute family-oriented concept with a terrific marketing campaign."
The movie is distributed by Pantelion, a joint venture of Hollywood studio Lionsgate Entertainment and Mexican media giant Televisa that intends to tap the Hispanic American moviegoing audience that last year bought 10.9 million tickets or 26 percent of all tickets sold, according to the industry group Motion Picture Association of America.
"Hispanics were the heaviest moviegoers, as they represent 18 percent of the moviegoing population but accounted for 25 percent of all movies seen," said media research company Nielsen in a separate study. "Hispanics were also the only demographic group that went to more movies in 2012 than in the prior year - 9.5 movies on average compared with 8.5 in 2011."
To tap that market for "Instructions Not Included," Pantelion put ads on Univision, Telemundo and other Spanish-language channels as well as social media sites like Fandango, Facebook and Youtube that are heavily used by the Hispanic population.
Pantelion also relied heavily on Derbez, who promoted the film to his 3.2 million Twitter followers and 1.5 million "likes" for his official Facebook page.
To kick off its campaign, the company peppered U.S. Spanish-language network Univision with ads for its annual "Premios Juventud" awards show in July. Derbez received a lifetime achievement award on the show, which was seen by over 10 million viewers, Pantelion said.
"He's the biggest star you never heard of," said Pantelion chief executive Paul Presburger. "The strength of this film is that it has had great world of mouth, and he's a big part of that."
The biggest-selling Spanish-language film in the United States ever is "Pan's Labyrinth," a horror film directed by Mexico's Guillermo del Toro, that opened in early 2007 with $4.5 million on its first weekend and totaled $83 million in worldwide sales, according to movie site Box Office Mojo.
"Instructions Not Included," with its Mexican setting, may resonate more with the U.S. Hispanic audience, which includes many Mexican immigrants, than "Pan's Labyrinth," which is set in Spain in 1944.
Pantelion, whose formation was announced in announced 2010 by Lionsgate CEO Jon Feltheimer and Grupo Televisa CEO Emilio Azcarraga, intends to produce eight to 10 films a year aimed at the Hispanic market in the United States and Mexico, in an effort to duplicate the success Lionsgate has with the African American market through films it distributes for Tyler Perry.
"Instructions Not Included" will expand to about 500 theaters this weekend, said Presburger, and will be marketed to a "crossover" market that includes English-speaking movie goers in areas with larger Hispanic populations.
The movie will open as well in Mexico later in September.
(This story is corrected with Guillermo del Toro's nationality paragraph 11, eliminates garble paragraph 12)
(Reporting By Ronald Grover; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)