Ewan McGregor, Naomi Watts and Tom Holland star in Juan Antonio Bayona's… (Jose Haro / Summit Entertainment )
As in most countries, James Cameron's last two films "Avatar" and "Titanic" top the box-office list of all-time highest grossers in Spain. But that could change if native son Juan Antonio Bayona and his latest film about a family caught in the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami "The Impossible" continues its unlikely drive in the European country.
Since its Oct. 11 opening, the film has grossed 29 million euros, over $37 million, in only four weeks of release. "Titanic" grossed 41 million euros in the country when it opened some 15 years ago, and only 2009's "Avatar" has beaten it.
Currently the film is the highest-grossing film of the year in the country and the highest-grossing Spanish film of all time.
"The Impossible" will screen tonight in Hollywood during the American Film Institute's annual festival ahead of its December release in the U.S.
Bayona's film, which centers on one family's survival during the tsunami that claimed the lives of 230,000 people, is a rather uncommon blockbuster. But audiences in Spain are finding it an event-like experience, according to Bayona's producing partner Belen Atienza, who says moviegoers are returning to the theater to watch it more than once.
Though two British actors, Naomi Watts and Ewan McGregor, are the leads of the movie, the film's premise is based on the life of Spaniard Maria Belon, her husband and their three sons. Bayona and Atienza pursued the family after hearing Belon tell her tale on a Spanish radio station.
That broadcast led to a long collaboration among Bayona, Atienza, Belon and screenwriter Sergio Sanchez as they spent the next two years putting Belon's story into script form.
When Bayona cast Watts in the role of Maria, it was a pleasant surprise for Belon, who calls the Oscar-nominated actress her favorite. During an interview at the Toronto International Film Festival, Belon said Watt's previous role in Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu's "21 Grams" helped her experience new emotions. "I knew what was being depressed was because of her character in that movie," said Belon. "She taught me about being depressed."
The production took place in a large water tank in Madrid and in Thailand -- at the very hotel where the family was staying when the wave struck. And those months of grueling work, both emotionally and physically, make the early box-office rewards even sweeter. It's a nice coincidence that the film's opening in Spain coincided with Belon's birthday.
"The Impossible" will open in France and Latin America before it bows in the U.S. on Dec. 21.
'The Impossible' stirs waves of emotion in Toronto
Tsunami acting is not 'Impossible' for Naomi Watts
'Hitchcock' biopic premiere to launch AFI Fest on Thursday