TORONTO — Smashing ticket sales for "Deadpool'' and "Star Wars: The Force Awakens'' proved that Canadians are more than willing to pony up for the right selection of Hollywood hits, even during the dead of winter.
Cineplex Inc., which owns 79 per cent of the national movie theatre market, says those two films helped the company deliver a record for attendance figures in the first quarter, a period that's typically known as a dead zone for big movies.
The Toronto-based company said it hosted 20.6 million patrons during the first three months of this year, which was a 17.4 per cent increase over the same period of last year.
Kylo Ren, in a still from "Star Wars: The Force Awakens." (Photo: Disney/Lucasfilm)
Cineplex raked in an average of $9.36 per patron at the box office, and brought in another $5.44 per patron at the concession stand.
Both figures were up about five per cent over the comparable period.
While a winter chill usually sets over cinemas in the lead up to Oscar season, this year an exceptional combination of major movies kept audiences buying tickets.
In additional to "Deadpool'' and the latest "Star Wars'' flick, "Zootopia'' was also a top draw while "The Revenant'' was a crossover awards contender.
Ryan Reynolds plays Deadpool in the 20th Century Fox film of the same name. (Photo: 20th Century Fox)
The success of those movies compared to a relatively weak period in 2015 when "American Sniper'' led ticket sales and "Fifty Shades of Grey'' fell short of expectations.
Cineplex's profits more than doubled to $21.5 million from $10.5 million, while earnings per share grew to 34 cents from 17 cents.
Box office sales accounted for $192.6 million of total revenue, with smaller contributions coming from food, amusement games and other types of leisure activities.
A still from Disney's "Zootopia." (Photo: Disney)
Cineplex has been striving to make its business less reliant on the volatile box office and fickle concession sales.
Inside its movie theatres it is building a roster of exceptional big-screen options — ranging from Imax to VIP theatres — which come at premium prices.
But it's also looking outside the movie business for growth.
Later this year, the company will open its first Rec Room location, a concept which pairs casual dining with arcade games and live music.
The Edmonton test location was delayed from a planned opening last year when executives decided they needed more time to work out the kinks.
A Cineplex theatre in Ottawa. (Photo: Adrian Wyld/CP)
"It's really important that we don't rush this,'' said chief executive Ellis Jacob in an interview.
"This is something that's out-of-the-box, from the perspective of the Canadian landscape, and we want our guests to enjoy it and embrace it for a long time.''
Cineplex has also been vying for the attention of younger audiences with a stronger emphasis on video game tournaments in its theatres.
Quarterly revenue from all Cineplex business lines totalled $379.9 million, up 30.8 per cent from $289.8 million a year earlier.
The dividend to Cineplex shareholders will increase by 3.8 per cent to $1.62 per share on an annualized basis.