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1 Movie, 1 Multiplex, 2 Versions

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

In “Fools Rush In,” language is just one of the barriers mismatched lovers must overcome in order to find true happiness. But Columbia Pictures didn’t want language to stand in the way of crossover success for the movie, which stars popular Mexican actress Salma Hayek and Matthew Perry from TV’s “Friends.”

To appeal to the widest audience possible--and take advantage of the number of screens available--the studio has taken a bilingual approach to its distribution, booking two versions of the film into several area multiplexes, with results the studio and participating movie theater operators consider promising.

“I think the way of the future is integrating multiplexes,” Sony Pictures Releasing President Jeff Blake says. “I’d like to do [more of] this in the future.”

Moviegoers at 11 theaters nationwide--nine in Southern California including AMC’s Ontario Mills 30 and two in Texas--can choose whether they want to watch “Fools Rush In” with Spanish subtitles or not. Those screenings are on top of the traditional Spanish circuit--seven Southern California theaters and one in Queens, N.Y.--playing the subtitled version only.

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Releasing subtitled versions of mainstream movies is nothing out of the ordinary, especially in Southern California, but tandem versions in the same multiplex are. Disney has released simultaneous English-language and Spanish-subtitled versions of event pictures such as “101 Dalmatians” and “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” in the same theater complex, but otherwise the examples are few. The last time Columbia employed a similar strategy was with “La Bamba” 10 years ago.

Blake says the studio revived the technique for “Fools Rush In” to take advantage of its cross-cultural plot and Hayek’s appeal in the Latino community.

“We think one of the real positive elements of the film is the sort of culture clash between Matthew Perry’s WASPy family and Salma Hayek’s traditional Mexican family,” Blake says. “We felt it was a fun interchange and that there definitely would be appeal in the Mexican American community.”

At the same time, he says, the studio considered the movie a broad mainstream movie and didn’t want to market it like a specialty film.

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“We really felt it wasn’t a specialty film--it’s a wide commercial film--and we felt it was a film the whole family might enjoy, including perhaps some members of the family that might prefer it in Spanish,” Blake says. “We hope what we did was expand our audience beyond what it normally would be, while at the same time we were able to do what we normally do, which is service the mainstream audience.”

Although Blake concedes that the English-language version out-grossed the one with Spanish subtitles “in almost every case,” during the opening weekend, the subtitled versions nevertheless out-grossed the national average.

According to Blake, the subtitled version of “Fools Rush In” grossed an average of $6,200 per screen during opening weekend at theaters showing both. The national per-screen average, by contrast, was $5,803. Theaters showing only the subtitled version averaged $5,860 per screen. (Through Sunday, the film has grossed $16.6 million.)

Bob Capps, executive vice president for worldwide film for United Artists Theaters, calls the subtitled version’s performance “about on par with the English language” at the Torrance and Riverside theaters. The subtitled version was considered a moderate success at the two AMC theaters screening it, said Caye Crosswhite, spokeswoman for AMC.

Heartened by the response to “Fools Rush In,” Blake plans to try the bilingual strategy again, perhaps more widely. “I will certainly use these results to get an even wider release next time,” he says, citing “Anaconda” with Jennifer Lopez as a possible candidate. “Other theaters expressed interest but didn’t have the space.”

Warner Bros. also plans to release both versions of the movie “Selena,” also starring Lopez, on March 21, marking the first time the studio has released two versions.


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