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From superheroes to hobbits, 2012 film releases fuel resurgence at theaters

Published: Friday, Dec. 14, 2012 5:30 a.m. CDT • Updated: Friday, Dec. 14, 2012 1:53 p.m. CDT
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(Sandy Bressner – sbressner@shawmedia.com)
"The Hobbit," one of this year's much anticipated movies, opened today at Charlestowne 18 movie theater in St. Charles.

Chris Johnson wouldn’t guess how many people might line up to get the first look at “The Hobbit.”

But Johnson, vice president of Downers Grove-based Classic Cinemas, which owns the Charlestowne 18 cineplex in St. Charles, believes his theaters will play the movie to full crowds for days.

“This is going to be something special, I think,” Johnson said. “It’s going to lead a strong intro to the holiday, and a strong finish to our year.”

Filmmaker Peter Jackson’s adaptation of author J.R.R. Tolkien’s classic fantasy tale, “The Hobbit,” began its cinematic run today, with the first of three movies based on the book.

The film, “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey,” opened at midnight, and was expected to play to large crowds in theaters locally and nationwide.

And while the film is anticipated to generate big business, in 2012 it is the latest in a series of blockbuster films that have boosted attendance and made 2012 a much better year for theater owners.

Nationwide, through Tuesday, gross box office receipts had already increased by about 6 percent, compared to the same period in 2011, according to data posted by Box Office Mojo, a movie box office tracking company.

The approximately $10.07 billion shelled out year-to-date by Americans to watch movies in theaters is nearly equal to the $10.17 billion gross box office take in all of 2011, according to Box Office Mojo.

Should “The Hobbit” drive ticket sales as past holiday season blockbusters such as James Cameron’s “Avatar” did in 2009 and early 2010, 2012 could make 2011 just a brief downturn for theaters.

Locally, theater operators in the Tri-Cities said the year had been generally good.

Johnson said ticket sales were up about 7 to 9 percent throughout Classic Cinemas properties, which includes cineplexes in St. Charles, Carpentersville and 11 other locations in the Chicago suburbs and northern Illinois.

At Goodrich Randall 15 IMAX, a cineplex in Batavia owned by Grand Rapids, Mich.-based Goodrich Quality Theaters, the year also brought larger numbers of moviegoers into the theaters, assistant manager Matt Lorenz said.

He said he could not provide specific numbers, but noted that “business was better.”

“It was nothing drastic, but there was better total attendance,” Lorenz said.

He and Johnson credited much of their theaters’ improved performance this year to a steady stream of blockbuster-type films, which this year included “The Hunger Games,” “The Avengers,” “The Dark Knight Rises,” and the latest installments in the “Twilight” and James Bond movie franchises.

“Movies like ‘Avengers’ and ‘Dark Knight Rises,’ they were just huge,” Lorenz said.

Johnson said the big superhero-themed summer releases were a big part of Classic Cinemas’ business this year, too. But he said the theater chain has benefited just as strongly this year from strong fall movie releases, including “Skyfall,” “Lincoln” and “Flight,” which led into the holiday season releases, highlighted by “The Hobbit.”

“I don’t know where exactly we’re going to end up,” Johnson said. “But the last few weeks, for us, have been great.”

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