Hero envy: Cineplex longs for Avengers, dinos as early summer numbers disappoint

TORONTO – The dogs of summer were aplenty at the box office in the early weeks of Hollywood’s biggest movie season — and even a raft of superheros couldn’t save Cineplex Inc.

One failed movie followed another during the April to June film slate and that left Canada’s largest movie exhibitor with more empty seats in its theatres.

“We thought it was, from our perspective, a lot lighter,” chief executive Ellis Jacob said Thursday of the second-quarter results where profits dropped 72 per cent.

It’s not the kind of results the company looks for in the weeks that typically mark the warm-up to a bombastic summer where eager moviegoers are supposed to show up in droves.

Such ambitious prospects were hard to find this year as duds like the latest instalment of “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles,” the critically panned “Alice Through the Looking Glass” and underperforming comedies “The Boss” and “Central Intelligence” quashed the hopes of another record-breaking season.

“You name it, there were a lot of titles,” Jacob said of the flops which knocked Cineplex’s profits down to $7.2 million versus $25.5 million the same time last year.

It was always going to be difficult for Cineplex to outdo its early summer performance of 2015 when the roster of marquee superheros in “Avengers: Age of Ultron” stole the show. Other films on that summer’s slate became some of the biggest box-office draws of all time, including the carnivorous relics in “Jurassic World” and the buff street racers of “Furious 7.”

Together they gave hope to Hollywood executives that audiences were thirsty to fork out money to engage with familiar specimens on the big screen.

This summer’s “Captain America: Civil War” didn’t encourage quite as much enthusiasm. While the action flick delivered the biggest percentage of business for Cineplex, it fell short of Marvel’s “Ultron” ticket sales last year. Other superhero showdowns in “X-Men: Apocalypse” and “Batman v Superman” proved that even timeless franchises can be hurt by weak reviews and poor audience response.

Overall attendance at Cineplex (TSX:CGX) fell 14.4 per cent to 16.9 million patrons for the three months ended June 30.

Viewers spent more, however, as Cineplex noted that concession spending grew 4.4 per cent to $5.74 per patron.

Cineplex has also convinced more people to upgrade their tickets to premium-priced theatres, which helped boost box-office revenue to $9.62 per patron, an increase of 17 cents.

The exhibitor has been aggressively bulking up alternatives to the traditional night at the movies — with each experience coming at a higher ticket price. The company’s VIP theatres serve alcohol and offer a broader food assortment while a new offering called Barco Escape presents an ultra-widescreen experience that immerses the viewer in the film.

Cineplex’s next foray into new technology will be the company’s first 4DX auditorium, which augments films with piped-in scents and environmental effects like wind, snow and bubbles. Set to open in downtown Toronto, the project was delayed from a summer launch after the exhibitor discovered it would require a different type of city permit for a movie theatre with motion.

A new opening date is set for later this year, Jacob said.

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