Call it Montezuma’s revenge. Or more precisely in this case, Tlaloc’s revenge.
Amid the hype for the second season of the The Summer I Turned Pretty or feature Red, White & Royal Blue, another Amazon title has quietly been reigning over the streaming service’s top 10.
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The Black Demon, a shark movie with a supernatural and Latino bent, has claimed in the number one spot on Amazon’s streaming rankings for seven consecutive days since its debut Aug. 22, beating out not just those Amazon sensations, but also major studio fare such as Universal’s Cocaine Bear and Paramount’s Dungeons & Dragons, which also sit in the streamer’s daily top 10 ranking of most-watched entries in the U.S.
It’s an impressive feat, given that the film, made for under $10 million, had just a small marketing spend, though without actual viewing numbers, it’s hard to judge the breadth of the thriller’s success. Unlike Netflix, Amazon doesn’t even release the total minutes viewed of its top 10 movies. Still, the number one status of Demon does underscore the power of Latino stories, which when delivered in the right way, can reach a wide swath of a hungry audience.
“No one has ever seen a genre shark movie with a Latino bent,” says Javier Chapa, one of the producers of Demon and whose company, Mucho Mas Media, originated the project. “That’s where we saw the opportunity, given our company’s ethos is all about really supporting people of color on both sides of the camera — but also filling a highly underserved need in our community.”
The movie mixes several subgenres in its tale of a family stuck on an oil rig as they try to survive the onslaught of a giant shark, a megalodon, which just might be the herald of the Aztec god Tlaloc. Yes, there are shark attacks, but there is also an emotional family drama, a faith-based spirit, Aztec culture and plenty of Latino sabor.
Chapa, who is the husband of Legendary Entertainment vice chairman Mary Parent, teamed up with Jon Silk, a producer known for his genre and comic book acumen, to develop the idea, honing the script by Carlos Cisco and Boise Esquerra (Cisco ultimately got story-by credit while Esquerra received screenplay-by credit). Adrian Grunberg, the Mexico-born assistant director-turned-filmmaker who directed Mel Gibson in Get the Gringo and Sylvester Stallone in Rambo: Last Blood, came on board after a deal with director Gerardo Naranjo (Miss Bala) fell apart.
The movie cobbled its financing indie film style — Demon has 17 executive producers — and hit the Cannes film market in March 2021 via the Highland Film Group. A few months later, Amazon picked up distribution rights for North America and Latin America.
“In the world of financing presales, if you have a shark movie and the director of a Rambo movie, you’re going to stand out,” says Silk, who produced via his banner, Silk Mass.
By November of that year, production began in the Dominican Republic with Josh Lucas as the name star. Fernanda Urrejola, Venus Ariel and Julia Cesar Cedillo rounded out the main cast. The production settled at Pinewood Studios in the Dominican Republic, putting a large water tank to good use and constructing a two-and-a-half-story oil rig set for the actors to run around on (VFX extended the platform). Shooting with kids restricted the number of shooting hours in a day. And a COVID outbreak forced a shutdown, costing the production money and causing the visual effects budget to be trimmed.
“Water, kids and COVID — there was definitely some tough times,” says the Chapa. “But I think these are the good times, to see what people are responding to, to see it at the top of the charts. These are the fruits of your labour.”
Highland released the movie theatrically via its arm, The Avenue, on just over 500 screens in the spring in America as well as some international territories but with a limited P&A, designed to hit a digital audience. The movie then hit Paramount Home Entertainment as a hard copy sell-through before arriving a week ago on Amazon.
With just one known star, and with no billboards, TV spots or a frothy soundtrack, Demon leaped to the number one spot where it has pretty much stayed there, much to the amazement of its filmmakers. (On Wednesday afternoon, it fell to third behind Summer I Turned Pretty and the Woody Harrelson comedy Champions.)
“These are movies and shows with a lot of resources behind them,” notes Silk of the other titles in the top 10. “It’s special to see this movie get people’s attention like this.”
Latinos over-index in terms of moviegoing, yet are dramatically underrepresented onscreen. They make up 19 percent of the U.S. population, yet in 2022, were found in 5.1 percent of lead roles in films and 4.5 percent of co-leads in ensembles, according to a 2023 study by the Latino Donor Collaborative.
The movie’s success only seems to fire Chapa up. Says the producer, “That the Latino community doesn’t get a lot of support on films, it’s shocking to me. They are the most aggressive moviegoing audience, more than any other cohort. And to me, it’s the million-dollar question: why aren’t more people making films that are universal but that are by and for that community?”
The answer to that question may be coming soon enough, in the form of a sequel. The writers and actors strikes may be gumming up any dealmaking but the producers say there is talk of a follow-up.
Chapa sees the success as proof that there exists a social need for movies like this in his community. And Demon is something he hopes to build on.
“I didn’t coin this but movies that have ‘Latino feel and a global appeal’ is what we need more of,” he says.
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