‘Rio’ kicks off a Brazilian beauty boom

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Movies set in Rio de Janeiro have often showcased its grittier side -- the Brazilian city’s shantytowns served as locations for the 2002 Oscar-nominated crime drama ‘City of God,’ the 2005 documentary of slum life ‘Favela Rising’ and Bruce Banner’s hideaway in 2008’s ‘The Incredible Hulk.’

But Hollywood is presenting a decidedly more tourist-friendly view of Rio this year, highlighting its bustling beaches, dramatic mountaintop statues and charming locals in everything from an animated family film to a street-racing franchise to the next ‘Twilight’ installment.


In the animated ‘Rio,’ which opens this weekend, a domesticated macaw named Blu (voiced by Jesse Eisenberg) ventures far from his cozy home in Minnesota to the exotic, colorful land of his birth. The movie depicts icons of the Brazilian metropolis (which you can check out in this photo gallery) like the massive Christ the Redeemer statue atop Corcovado mountain, the samba dancers of Carnival and the antique trolley cars. The music was executive produced by Brazilian bossa nova king Sergio Mendes.

‘Rio is a tough city, and people are very skeptical about it getting better,’ said Carlos Saldanha, the native Brazilian director of ‘Rio.’ ‘This movie brings a message of hope. Hopefully it will open people’s eyes.’

The Brazilian tourism board is also optimistic about the persuasive potential of Saldanha’s film, creating a short promotional video titled ‘Brazil Calls You. Celebrate Life Here’ to run before screenings of the film this weekend.

‘Fast Five,’ the next installment of the ‘Fast and the Furious’ franchise is set in Rio as well, and the ‘Fast Five’ trailer opens with a shot of the Christ the Redeemer statue. ‘Fast Five’ will live stream its premiere from Rio this Friday, and has had stars Vin Diesel and Dwayne Johnson riding the city’s cable cars with reporters all week.

These cinematic travelogues come in advance of another event that should set all eyes on Brazil -- the Rio-set 2016 Olympics.

But the South American location may be gaining favor for another reason -- it helps studios make a strong pitch to a new audience. ‘Rio,’ which opened internationally last week, became the top-opening American movie in Brazil, earning $8.4 million there, according to, while also taking in solid hauls in nearby Argentina ($1.5 million) and Chile ($1.4 million).

And though Hispanics account for only about 15% of the U.S. population, they made up nearly half of the opening weekend for the last film in the ‘Fast and Furious’ franchise, according to studio exit polling, and ‘Fast Five’ is being marketed heavily to Latinos in the U.S. in Spanish-language spots.

Then, of course, there is Rio’s steamy reputation, which got even hotter when Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson filmed multiple takes of a kissing scene on the city’s busy streets late last year for ‘The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 1.’ Forget natural beauty: Rio may ultimately garner the most visitors for being the city where Bella and Edward finally act on all that pent-up lust.

-- Rebecca Keegan