Universal's Fast & Furious franchise has been a hit for more than a decade, but Latino moviegoers are steering it into the blockbuster fast lane.
The latest entry, Fast & Furious 6, roared to $120 million over the past four days and has been the driving force behind the biggest Memorial Day weekend ever at the domestic box office. Latinos made up 32 percent of its audience, as they did for the previous entry in Universal's muscle car franchise, Fast Five, and this film is now on track to pass that one as the highest-grossing in the series.
"It's not just Hispanics, it's the diversity in general that helped this movie become so popular," Universal's distribution chief Nikki Rocco said Monday, and the numbers bear that out. White moviegoers made up 29 percent of the audience, while African-Americans were 22 percent and Asians were 13 percent.
The connection of Fast & Furious 6 with Latino audiences is no accident. With stars like Michelle Rodríguez, and a healthy amount of Spanish dialogue, Universal went out of its way to court them.
Fast & Furious 6 could be even bigger overseas. It opened No. 1 in 59 foreign markets and took in roughly $160 million abroad this weekend, giving it a global total of $300 million, the studio's best-ever worldwide opening. At $13 million, Mexico was the second-highest grossing market, behind only Russia with $17.8 million.
The increasing clout of Latino movie audiences -- who go to movies more than any other ethnic group -- is a growing reality for Hollywood. Latinos represent just 17 percent of the U.S. population, yet accounted for 26 percent of domestic ticket sales in 2012, according a study by the Motion Picture Association of America.
Universal has scored by targeting Latino audiences before. Director Guillermo del Toro's horror film Mama surprised with $32 million over the four-day Martin Luther King Jr. earlier this year and Latino moviegoers made up 47 percent of the audience.