There are a few things Utah does better than the coasts—shredded carrots in jello, modest prom dresses, all-you-can-eat buffets.
But pop culture doesn’t usually come to mind as one of the Beehive State’s bragging points… until now.
Turns out, Larry H. Miller Group’s six Megaplex Theatres are giving cinemas at both ends of the country a run for their money—literally. Opening weekend of the Hunger Games franchise at the end of March proved Megaplex’s dominance: Four of the top six grossing theaters for midnight screenings nationwide were in Utah.
Fans flocked to Megaplex theaters for the Hunger Games
LHM Group’s Jordan Commons cinema in South Jordan outperformed all other theaters in the country—collecting $276,000 in sales over the weekend. And that’s without the benefit of coastal prices, where movie tickets cost $15. Megaplex charges $8.75 a pop.
For four weeks in a row, the movie has beaten out all comers—“The Three Stooges,” “American Reunion,” “Mirror, Mirror.” In North America, the film has raked in $337 million; $500 million worldwide.
And it’s still doing well at Utah’s Megaplex theaters.
“We are putting twice as many people through our theater on a weekend as our West and East Coast competitors,” says Julene Jolley, event director for Megaplex Theatres. “We’re pretty proud of our little selves here.”
To do it, Jolley and her crew turn blockbuster openings into events: For Harry Potter, Jolley brought in a bull-riding machine. At the opening of the first Twilight movie, she hired Edward and Jacob look-alikes to help a man propose to his girlfriend. For the Hunger Games, Megaplex offered makeup stations where “tributes” could have Cinna apply glitter to their eyelids or wrestle in plastic sumo costumes. Tickets to the party cost $34.
Makeup at Cinna's Salon.
In costume for Hunger Games at Megaplex's opening night party.
The elaborate marketing gimmicks only work for particular movies—usually those based on young-adult fantasy fiction with a rabid following.
“You have to have a really unique fan base to pull this off,” Jolley says.
Megaplex’s success is getting noticed in Hollywood. While movie attendance is going down across the country and other theater managers are broadcasting opera or boosting concessions to make up the difference, the Utah theater chain is gaining audience share against the odds.
In return, Megaplex has gotten a few favors: For the opening of The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn—Part 1, Summit Entertainment flew in two of the film’s stars, Ashley Greene and Peter Facinelli, for a mini-premiere.
“Megaplex is embracing the film and looking for that hard-core fanboy to come in and immerse themselves in the movie,” media analyst James Marsh told The Los Angeles Times. “I don’t hear the big guys doing that.”
Fans decked out to watch Hunger Games.
This week, Jolley’s team will start planning for the next spectacle: the final installment in The Twilight Saga, which opens in November.