The films will represent a mix of genres, as varied as romantic comedies and action thrillers. Some will be presented in English and some in Spanish. Pantelion’s first title, “From Prada to Nada,” about two spoiled rich sisters who are forced to move in with their poor aunt in East Los Angeles, is scheduled for release in January.
“If we tell emotionally resonant stories and explore the roots of Spanish-speaking people, there is a very attractive opportunity here,” said Emilio Azcárraga Jean, chief executive of Grupo Televisa. “People like to see themselves represented on the screen.”
Hollywood has repeatedly tried to till this ground, without success. In 1999, two Los Angeles companies announced plans to release as many as a dozen Spanish-language films in the United States a year. That effort fizzled after audiences ignored two early releases. In 2003, Universal Pictures scrapped a distribution agreement with Arenas Entertainment, a Latino film label.
Samuel Goldwyn Films got burned when it tried to tap the Hispanic market in 2001 with films like “Tortilla Soup.” At the time, Meyer Gottlieb, Samuel Goldwyn’s president, told The Los Angeles Times, “When it comes to filmed entertainment, they don’t view themselves as Latinos. They want to see it because everybody else wants to see it.”
But Mr. Azcárraga and Jon Feltheimer, chief executive of Lions Gate Entertainment, say they are confident they can succeed, citing figures showing that 37 million Hispanic moviegoers bought 300 million tickets in 2009, a per-moviegoer rate of more than eight tickets a year, the highest of any ethnic group.
Analysts say that, compared with other racial and ethnic groups, Latinos are the fastest-growing segment of the moviegoing audience and tend to buy more DVDs. At the same time, Latinos have started to drive results for broad releases; “Alvin and the Chipmunks,” from 20th Century Fox, and “Fast & Furious” from Universal blossomed into hits in large part because of support from Latino moviegoers, the studios said. At the art house, “Pan’s Labyrinth,” directed by Mexico-born Guillermo del Toro, has shown the potential for a crossover audience. That film, made for about $19 million, generated more than $83 million at the global box office.
Lionsgate has also been quietly experimenting with Spanish-language releases, finding moderate success with tiny films like “La Mujer de Mi Hermano” (“My Brother’s Wife”), which sold about $5 million in tickets in 2006.
“We have been interested in this market for a long time, but now we really think we can turn it into a business,” Mr. Feltheimer said.
The difference this time, the executives involved say, is experience. Lionsgate has a successful track record in marketing movies to niche audiences. Televisa’s strength is in production. And Pantelion has a potential ace up its sleeve: AMC Entertainment, North America’s second-largest movie theater chain behind Regal Entertainment. AMC’s chief executive, Geraldo Lopez, has agreed in advance to dedicate at least one screen in 50 of its theaters to Pantelion films. The theaters are in neighborhoods where more than a third of the population is Hispanic. Another chain, Cinemark, said it was in discussions with Pantelion to provide the fledgling production company with marketing support.
“Gee, if we can give them more culturally relevant product we may just get them to come to the movies a little bit more,” said Mr. Lopez.
He said that was something he thought about not as a chief executive but as an average moviegoer. “It’s difficult to go to the movies and find Latinos in roles that are normal,” he said. “Instead, it’s the bad guy in the neighborhood, the guy with the tattoos. Rarely do you see a Latino portrayed as a businessman, for crying out loud.”
James M. McNamara, the former chief executive of Telemundo, will be Pantelion’s chairman and Paul Presburger, a longtime Lionsgate international executive, will be chief executive. Mr. Presburger said part of Pantelion’s strategy involved forging partnerships with consumer brands that were courting the same demographic. “We are deep in those conversations,” he said.
Mr. McNamara says he is hopeful that Pantelion will get a robust welcome from screenwriters and actors. “I think there is a lot of pent-up demand for this on behalf of the industry’s creative community,” he said.