Cineplex offers discounts as box-office falters

TORONTO — Hollywood’s cruel summer of box-office flops has Cineplex hoping to reel in elusive audiences with a cheap movie ticket offer.

Canada’s largest movie theatre company says it’s putting into effect Tuesday discount pricing for all screenings running from Friday to Aug. 31.

Patrons can expect a 30 per cent ticket discount on those days, Cineplex said, with Scene members receiving an additional 10 per cent savings.

It’s an unusual move during a period that’s often considered the victory lap after months of huge blockbusters — except this season massive hits were almost non-existent.

The North American summer box-office was off about 13 per cent to $3.63 billion as of Aug. 23, helping to drag down the year’s box-office tally by 5.4 per cent, according to comScore senior analyst Paul Dergarabedian.

Earlier this month, Cineplex (TSX:CGX) joined several U.S. chains in announcing weaker profits as fewer people filled theatres.

Even though “Wonder Woman” and “Guardians of the Galaxy 2” delivered strong results, the number of box-office failures easily outshines the successes.

Among the duds, Tom Cruise’s “The Mummy” and “King Arthur: Legend of the Sword” both disappointed on opening weekend, while huge franchises like ”Pirates of the Caribbean” and “Planet of the Apes” showed signs of running out of steam.

Without the hits, Cineplex feels the sting on its box-office revenue and at concession stands where hungry moviegoers shell out for marked-up popcorn and drinks. Food purchases are especially important to exhibitors because movie ticket sales go almost entirely to the studios.

For the first time this summer, Cineplex offered a pass that allowed customers to buy a bulk number of tickets at a cheaper price.

Any shimmer of hope that August would save the season was quickly dashed when “The Dark Tower” stumbled out of the gate with $19.2 million its first weekend. It’s a mere fraction of the $132 million opening of “Suicide Squad” at the same time last summer.

“We haven’t really had anything of any consequence,” said Raymond James analyst Kenric Tyghe. “There’s literally been nothing to see.”

While some observers have pegged the decline to a growing popularity of low-cost streaming services like Netflix and CraveTV, not everyone is convinced that the notoriously volatile box-office won’t pick up again in a few weeks.

“In September the tables turn,” Tyghe suggested, pointing to Stephen King’s “It” remake, which is currently projected to break box-office records next month.

Other hyped titles like “Kingsman: The Golden Circle” and “The Lego Ninjago Movie” could give another jolt of life to the industry.

But until then, Cineplex is siding with discounts to contend with another weekend of slim pickings.

“The Hitman’s Bodyguard,” last week’s No. 1 film, is expected to hold the top spot while an expansion of indie thriller “Wind River” and a re-release of 1991 Arnold Schwarzenegger flick “Terminator 2: Judgement Day” in 3D round out the highlights.

Saturday night’s hyped pay-per-view fight between UFC fighter Conor McGregor and boxer Floyd Mayweather Jr. is also expected to take a bite out of box-office receipts.

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