Grady Smith
September 13, 2013 AT 04:00 AM EDT

Mexican films don’t typically become instant box office phenoms when they travel north of the border, but Instructions Not Included is bucking the trend. The Spanish-language comedy debuted over Labor Day weekend to a surprisingly robust $7.8 million in only 348 theaters — the third-best opening ever for a foreign-language film after two Jet Li vehicles, both of which opened in over 1,800 locations. The following weekend, distributor Pantelion Films (a joint venture of Lionsgate and Mexican broadcaster Televisa) expanded Instructions to 717 theaters, and it jumped to $8.1 million for a $20.4 million total. After just 10 days, the film is already the 10th-highest-grossing foreign-language film in U.S. history, well on its way to unseating Like Water for Chocolate as the States’ biggest Mexican hit. It’s also poised to surpass Guillermo del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth (a Mexican-Spanish co-production that made $37.6 million here) to become the U.S.’ highest-grossing Spanish-language smash ever.

”We knew we had something special, but I’d be fibbing if I said I was expecting a $10 million opening,” says Pantelion CEO Paul Presburger, referring to Instructions‘ four-day gross over Labor Day weekend. To explain the film’s success, Presburger points to the rising box office power of Latinos, who make up about 17 percent of the U.S. population but purchase 25 percent of all movie tickets. Pantelion was also able to combat piracy and boost ticket sales by releasing the movie before its Mexican debut. More than anything, though, Presburger cites the appeal of Instructions‘ leading man, Mexican superstar Eugenio Derbez, who also directed and co-wrote the film. ”We know what a big star Eugenio is,” Presburger says. ”We traveled [with him] to several different cities. And he was on Univision kind of nonstop the last week before the movie came out.”

Derbez, whom you might recognize from Adam Sandler’s Jack and Jill or Rob Schneider’s short-lived CBS sitcom ¡Rob!, spent over a decade crafting the story of an Acapulco playboy forced to rethink his life when an old flame leaves the baby girl he never knew he had on his doorstep. ”It took 12 years to raise the money,” the actor says of the $5.5 million film. Clearly, the long wait has paid off. Audiences gave the comedy an A+ CinemaScore, and now every talk show in Hollywood is trying to book Derbez. ”Yesterday was Larry King, and today Jimmy Fallon,” he laughs. ”I couldn’t ask for more.”

Best Foreign-Language Openings

Hero, $18 million
Jet Li’s Fearless, $10.6 million
Instructions Not Included, $7.8 million
Iron Monkey, $6 million
The Protector, $5 million

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