Romeo Santos' speaking part in Furious 7 lasts exactly 10 seconds. But 10 seconds can mean a lot at the box office.
"Latin audiences spend more on film, and music stars are an attraction," says Bob Berney, CEO of indie distributor Picturehouse, whose films include the upcoming Gloria Trevi biopic Gloria! and 2001's Y Tu Mamá También. "They tweet and get their fans to go."
Apparently so. This year, Furious 7's opening weekend brought in $384 million, including $143.6 million domestically, making it the biggest U.S. debut since The Hunger Games: Catching Fire in November 2013 ($158 million). But more telling, according to Universal: Hispanics were the majority of Furious 7's ticket buyers (37 percent), followed by Caucasians (25 percent) and African-Americans (24 percent).
For his part, Santos not only promoted Furious 7 relentlessly on Twitter, but brought out co-star Vin Diesel before a sold-out Los Angeles audience last May to announce his involvement in the film.
Santos wasn't the franchise's first Latin-music crossover. Rapper Tego Calderón and reggaetón star Don Omar both had bit roles in 2009's Fast & Furious and 2011's Fast Five. In Omar's case, his music was featured prominently; his hit "Danza Kuduro" had seven minutes of screen time in Fast Five.
"The Fast & Furious franchise uses these music acts because their lifestyles, personalities and backgrounds are authentic to the world in our films and to the fans," says Fabian Castro, senior vp multicultural marketing for Universal Pictures. "The popularity of these Latin artists -- especially in social media -- broadens the reach of the film's marketing."
This article first appeared in the May 2 issue of Billboard.