Fueled by Latino moviegoers, low-budget horror pic Mama has quickly transformed into a box office success story for Universal and Guillermo del Toro.
Mama -- headlining Jessica Chastain -- crossed the $50 million mark on Tuesday, its 13th day in release at the domestic box office. By the weekend, the film will have earned more than horror hits The Woman in Black and Insidious grossed in their entire runs ($54.3 million and $54 million, respectively). Paranormal Activity 4, released last fall, grossed $53.9 million in North America.
The strength of the $15 million Mama caught Hollywood off guard when it opened to $32.1 million over the four-day Martin Luther King Jr. weekend. Latino moviegoers made up 47 percent of Mama's audience, a greater percentage than usual for a horror film and helping to explain why the movie overperformed. And it has continued to over-index in Hispanic markets.
According to box office observers, Mama is appealing to Latinos both because of its storyline (horror is a huge draw for this demo) and del Toro. That bodes well for the film's debut in Mexico this weekend.
Generally speaking, Latinos make up about 35 percent of the opening weekend audience for a horror film.
Hollywood studios are spending more and more on marketing their films to Latinos, a demo that goes to the movies more than any other group. As part of the campaign for Mama, Universal debuted the second trailer for the pic on Univision interactive -- the first time in history that a Hollywood studio has debuted a new trailer in Spanish.
Universal also played up del Toro's involvement in the project. Among other promotions, the filmmaker narrated a Spanish featurette promoting the film, did press junkets for Spanish outlets and attended Universal Studio's Halloween Horror Grand Opening event.
"I think it shows the changing climate of viewing audiences. Any research company will tell you that we are becoming a very diverse moviegoing society," said Universal president of domestic distribution Nikki Rocco. "And we're thrilled that Hispanic audiences responded to our great marketing campaign."
In Mama, Chastain plays a woman who comes to take care of two feral girls who have been living in the woods, only to realize the girls are being chased by an otherworldly force.
Box office observers believe Mama will ultimately earn north of $60 million; how much more is the question.