The popular franchise “Fast & Furious 6” raced to the top of the movie charts with a star-studded cast that included Michelle Rodriguez.

In its weekend debut, it made a whopping $117 million domestically and $158 internationally – and Universal Pictures boasted that it was its biggest opening yet.

The movie owes no small part of its success to Latinos – who gave the action film a huge boost. According to the Los Angeles Times, nearly a third of the movie’s weekend audience during its debut was Latino.

"There are dynamics within Hispanic culture in terms of togetherness with family that transcend into moviegoing," Fabian Castro, vice president of multicultural marketing at Universal Pictures, told the Times.

Castro said it makes sense for movie studios to go after the lucrative Latino market. A Nielsen report earlier this year said Latinos account for 25 percent of all movie tickets sold – yet only make up 18 percent of the moviegoing population in the U.S.

"Out of our average 15 releases, we're probably promoting 12 or 13" to the Latino market, Castro said in a phone interview.

Aside from Rodriguez, "Fast & Furious 6" also stars Vin Diesel, Paul Walker and Dwayne Johnson, along with an international supporting cast. The film follows the muscle-car crew as they join with police in a worldwide hunt for a terrorist, battling a plane and a tank along the way.

"It's amazing how this franchise was considered all but dead after the third film, but the filmmakers and the studio did a great job of convincing the original cast members to come back, giving it a different feel and really expanding its scope," said Dave Karger, chief correspondent for movie site Fandango.com.

The film's international cast and settings also contributed to its appeal.

"It's no coincidence that the movie takes place overseas," Karger said. "That was, I'm sure, a very calculated decision."

Nikki Rocco, Universal's head of distribution, attributes the success of "Fast 6" to its broadened scope.

"It's so much more than what it was," she said. "You have to give credit to all of us and the filmmakers for taking it to the next level."

A recent Fandango survey shows that 93 percent of "Fast 6" ticket buyers are already anticipating the seventh installment, set to star Jason Statham.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

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