|Penelope Cruz is one of the stars in Paramount's 'Sahara,' which will be heavily marketed to Hispanic audiences.
Using more diverse casts as well as more tightly targeted advertising strategies for their mainstream blockbuster movies, studios and theater chains are significantly increasing their profit from ethnic moviegoers, according to industry authorities.
In fact, studies by Regal Cinemas, the largest U.S. chain, show that ethnic groups are among the most frequent moviegoers. "It's a real strong core audience," said Doug Pulick, vice president of research. "They will be driving the top five to seven films in any given weekend."
55% of movie audiences
Hispanics alone spent $1.5 billion at the box office in 2002, according to the Motion Picture Association of America, a number expected to double by 2012. In major markets such as Los Angeles and New York, Latinos make up 55% of opening weekend audiences. Nationally, African-Americans and Asians combined make up nearly 14% of moviegoers, according to Nielsen Cinema Audience Reports.
DreamWorks is one of the studios that has revamped its marketing strategies to take this into account. For its action thriller Collateral, the film company used images African-American actor Jamie Foxx on bus shelters and billboards in major urban markets. The ads were more notable, though, for the face that didn't appear: that of superstar Tom Cruise.
DreamWorks executives also scheduled back-to-back premieres -- one in Hollywood, the other in Harlem -- as part of a strategy to draw minority moviegoers.
"We realized we had the chance to bring in an ethnic audience that wouldn't necessarily show up first weekend for a Tom Cruise
|Salma Hayek is cast opposite Pierce Brosnan in New Line Cinema's 'After the Sunset.'
It paid off: The film launched at $25 million, strong for an R-rated picture, and has since pulled in $70 million in box office. It is expected to more than double that take internationally.
While young-skewing movies such as 2 Fast 2 Furious and the Scream franchise feature mixed-race casts, adult fare is now catching onto the diversity trend. Some upcoming examples include the Fox buddy comedy Taxi, with Queen Latifah and Jimmy Fallon; New Line's Blade: Trinity with Wesley Snipes and Jessica Biel; After the Sunset with Pierce Brosnan and Salma Hayek; and Paramount's Sahara with Matthew McConaughey and Penelope Cruz.
"If the movie is a melting pot, it attracts a melting-pot audience," said Paul Dergarabedian, president of Exhibitor Relations Co., a box-office-tracking firm. "If it has cross-generational, cross-cultural elements, the results can be pretty powerful at the box office."
The talent combinations have to be right for the project, and the stars must be topical to their audience, said Simon Millar, manager of rapper/actor/director Ice Cube at The Firm, in Los Angeles. "The question we ask, too, is, 'Who do we partner with to make the movie an international draw?'" Mr. Millar said. "There aren't many ethnic actors that have worldwide leverage."
Not only does diverse casting make a movie culturally relevant, it gives the studio additional media outlets to hype the film, said Amorette Jones, president of marketing at Arenas Entertainment, a film distributor, talent management and marketing consulting company specializing in the Latino market. "The Spanish-language media is so hungry for material, and these movies give them something to embrace."
Studio marketers hold influencer screenings and work the grassroots angle to get in front of ethnic audiences, hitting local radio, outdoor festivals, music fairs, nightclubs, beauty parlors and barber shops, in addition to TV stations like BET, Fox and UPN, said Pam Levine, co-president of marketing at News Corp.'s Fox.
'So much crossover'
"There's so much crossover now, with white teens watching BET and African-Americans going to Hispanic festivals, that you're hitting people who will be interested in the subject matter and the stars if you're in those places," Ms. Levine said.
Sometimes the campaign is the same as in the general market, and sometimes it's tweaked to push to the forefront a star popular with an ethnic audience but who hasn't broken into the mainstream.
And in a town of big egos, that may take a big star's buy-in. In DreamWork's case, Mr. Cruise blessed the marketing approach, Ms. Press said, waiving his contractual right to be the only face of the movie's ad campaign.