Central America continued its sturdy box office growth in 2016, primarily driven by the opening of new multiplexes.
Total box office for the region in 2016 was $140.5 million – 8.3% higher than in 2015 and 46% higher than in 2012. New multiplexes generated $8.2 million in new revenues – 76% of the year’s total box office hike.
According to Luis Vargas, comScore’s managing director for Latin America, the fastest-growing market was Panama, with 16.2% box office growth and the slowest Nicaragua, with 4.4%.
U.S. blockbusters dominated the region’s box office. The top three titles were “Captain America: Civil War” – with 1.3 million admissions and $ 7.7 million box-office – followed by “Batman vs. Superman” and “Finding Dory.” These three titles delivered over 10% of the region’s total box office.
IMAX films recorded lower box-office (-25.9%) and attendance (-29.4%) in 2016, with 29 titles released. By contrast, in 2015, IMAX films recorded 13.16% growth in box-office and 10.6% in attendance, driven by IMAX releases of “Furious 7,” “Avengers – Age of Ultron,” “Jurassic World”, and “Star Wars.”
Local films had more muted success than in 2015. The biggest local hit in admissions was Costa Rica’s $400,000 romantic comedy “Entonces Nosotros” (About Us), directed by 35-year old Hernán Jiménez, starring Jiménez himself and Argentine actress, Noelia Castaño.
After its world premiere at IFF Panama, the pic bowed on 22 screens in Costa Rica on May 12, with 35,500 admissions on the day of its premiere. The pic went on to clock up over 115,000 admissions and was the country’s 22nd highest-grossing film of the year. Jimenez’s debut feature, “El Regresso,” clocked up 135,000 admissions at the local box office.
“Nosotros” was written while Jimenez was studying scriptwriting at Columbia University in New York, where he also met the pic’s producer Chris Cole who is specializing in micro-to-low budget films for the Latin American market.
Costa Rican comedies have enjoyed success in their local market over recent years. 2015 hit “Maikol Yordan: Traveling Lost,” – about a farmer who travels to Europe to raise money to save his farm from foreclosure – was the highest-ever grossing Costa Rican pic and the country’s third most popular film in 2015.
Local films generally face an uphill struggle to get their films released. Five of the region’s six territories only released three or fewer local films – fewer than in 2015.
The only exception was Honduras – with seven local films released – where the highest-grossing local film was Joshe Villanueva’s urban comedy, “Historia de Heroes” – which ranked No. 17 at the local box office. Another Honduran film – Michael Bendeck’s action comedy “El Paletero” – came in at No. 28.
Unlike some Latin American countries, such as Venezuela and Argentina where inflation is rampant, Central America maintains very low inflation rates. Notwithstanding numerous economic and political difficulties, the region has enjoyed rising prosperity, with an increasingly stable middle class, which has also fueled cinema-going habits.
The continued growth of Central American box office provides the possibility for local films to make inroads into their domestic markets; but further progress in terms of training and financing structures is required before local films can fully capitalize on this potential.