Cineplex expected to reap benefits from The Force of 'Star Wars,' other big hits

TORONTO – If it isn’t a superhero or a dinosaur, there’s a growing chance moviegoers aren’t buying tickets.

More than ever before, blockbusters — like the latest entry in the “Minions” franchise and megahit “Jurassic World” — are devouring box-office ticket sales at the expense of other films.

And the shift is expected to only intensify heading into the holiday season, as audiences prepare for “Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens,” billed to be one of the top-grossing films in Hollywood history.

Advance ticket sales for “Star Wars” have already shattered previous records, which has the head of theatre chain Cineplex Inc. predicting that attendance will soar to near historical levels for the company.

“It’s the highest we’ve ever had — by far,” Cineplex’s chief executive Ellis Jacob said of presales, though he declined to provide actual numbers.

The pending release of “Star Wars” comes at a time when Cineplex is already riding high on a handful of huge hits.

Earlier this year, the company reported that advance ticket sales for “Avengers: Age of Ultron” raked in more than $4 million, smashing the record previously held by “Harry Potter: Deathly Hallows Pt. 2.”

To respond to “Star Wars” demand, Cineplex is adding extra blocks of advance tickets for the film, due on Dec. 18.

But as the company rushes to pack theatres full of dedicated fans, that means other movies are losing a spotlight in the run-up to awards season.

It’s a trend that has been playing out for most of this year.

In the first nine months of 2015, the Top Five grossing films represented 26.1 per cent of ticket sales — versus 19.5 per cent in the same window of 2014 — as movies like “Jurassic World” and “The Avengers” overshadowed mid-sized titles like “Magic Mike XXL,” “Vacation” and “Black Mass,” which generated plenty of attention but only lukewarm attendance.

Over the next seven weeks, a barrage of major Hollywood movies will charge into theatres, including the final instalment in the “Hunger Games” series and Quentin Tarantino’s “The Hateful Eight.”

“I think our problem is there’s going to be too many movies,” said Jacob.

Like most North American movie chains, Cineplex has been dealing with outsized hits and deep misses all year long, a sign that moviegoers are shifting the way they view movies, as the popularity of Netflix and other video streaming services alter the industry.

In the second quarter, which marked the start of summer movie season, a trio of Hollywood smashes dominated the exhibitor’s box office, with “The Avengers: Age of Ultron,” “Jurassic World” and “Furious 7,” representing 43.5 per cent of box-office revenue.

The impact on the final half of summer movie season was less pronounced, with nearly 30 per cent of the box office coming from “Minions,” the latest “Mission: Impossible” instalment and “Ant-Man.”

Cineplex Inc. (TSX:CGX) said attendance during the third quarter was up 7.6 per cent to 19.4 million patrons from a year ago.

Revenue jumped 9.8 per cent to a record $328.2 million as more people bought premium-priced tickets for its VIP cinemas and the Imax screen.

The Toronto-based company’s net income was up 34.7 per cent, rising to $21.4 million or 34 cents per share from $15.9 million or 25 cents per share.

Concession revenue per person was up 5.9 per cent to $5.38 from $5.08, while box office revenue per patron declined 0.8 per cent to $9.09 from $9.16.

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