It ran a total of just 14 days last December, but the latest installment in the Star Wars franchise was not only Cineplex’s top film for 2015 but was a major force behind its best year ever.
“2015 was the most successful year in Cineplex’s history,” said Ellis Jacob, chief executive of Cineplex Entertainment in a conference call with analysts Tuesday.
Of course a year that featured blockbusters Jurassic World, Furious 7 and Minions didn’t hurt either, he said, noting people tend to go to the movies in a weakening economy as an affordable outing.
It all translated into a box office bonanza for Canada's largest movie chain, which posted its best annual and fourth-quarter results and broke records in every category from attendance and ticket sales to concessions and showtime advertising, particularly for cars and electronics.
“When the economy is down, people still want to escape the tough times, and this is a very reasonably priced treat that people can have,” said Jacob.
Cineplex reported box office revenue of $196.3 million in the final quarter of 2015, up $23.8 million or 13.8 per cent from a year earlier.
Nearly a quarter of the revenue was driven by ticket sales for Star Wars: The Force Awakens, which has become the highest grossing film of all time in North America. And the movie’s continued popularity is also getting 2016 off to a great start, noted Jacob.
He expects another strong year at the movies in 2016 with new installments of popular franchises including Star Trek and Independence Day and sequels to Jack Reacher and Ghostbusters.
Cineplex's total revenue from all sources, including concession sales, advertising and newer business initiatives was $407.4 million, up 22.6 per cent from the fourth quarter of 2014. Net income more than doubled to $76.8 million or $1.22 per share, from $32.1 million or $0.51 per share.
The company reported total revenues of $1.37 billion for all of 2015, up 11 per cent from $1.23 billion in 2014. Net income also climbed, up 76 per cent to $134 million from $76.3 million the previous year.
The company said quarterly attendance hit a new all-time high of 20.4 million, up 7.1 per cent from the previous year.
Box office revenue per patron was $9.63, up 6.3 per cent in the fourth quarter of 2014, and concession revenue per patron was $5.58, up 8.6 per cent.
Membership in the SCENE loyalty program also increased by more than one million members in 2015, reaching a membership of 7.3 million at the end of last year.
Despite attendance records, Jacob said the company remains focused on diversifying its offering into more than that of a traditional movie theatre.
It plans on opening 10 to 15 locations of The Rec Room over the next few years. The first two locations — slated to open in Edmonton and Calgary — will offer casual dining, arcade and entertainment shows like a light show under one roof.
Diversification also means showing Bollywood movies and other foreign-language films, including some in Mandarin and Tagalog, and holding special screenings from the Metropolitan Opera and finales of popular TV shows like Game of Thrones.
Another big focus is its foray into eSports, which it hopes will continue to draw younger crowds into its movie theatres. The company is holding a number of regional video game tournaments featuring the game Call of Duty: Black Ops III, with its national tournament slated for March 6 at the Scotiabank Theatre in Toronto.
It plans on holding four national video game tournaments a year, and is eyeing expanding the idea to its theatres in the U.S.