May the Force Awaken: 'Star Wars' propels cinemarketing to new heights

Cinemas Features

As analysts downgrade exhibitor stocks because there is just no way that one movie can live up to their previously held–and highest–expectations, Film Journal International is taking its own stock of all the great work that cinema circuits and their teams have put in place for the Dec. 18 release of the Disney/Lucasfilm blockbuster Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

This month, our “Cinemarketing” report does not just include the film and ticket sales, but also several aspects of operations. Given the event status of what AMC Theatres has called “the opening of the most anticipated movie of the millennium,” this should not be all that surprising. Even to analysts.

Beginning our entirely subjective intergalactic search with the always-popular idea of giving something to moviegoers, there is much to be had indeed: from celebrating the “ONE WEEK away!” point by handing out “awesome #StarWars LEGO sets!” to whomever Facebook users deem to be “the biggest Star Wars fan you know!” (Regal Cinemas), to getting collectible tickets and posters at dedicated IMAX showings (Regal and AMC Theatres, respectively). Across the pond, the giving continues at Vue Entertainment with the “megabundle prize of ALL the gifts we’ve been giving away over the past month.”

Whereas Regal moviegoers are asked to “SHARE and TAGG” to find that very same biggest fan, Vue is inquiring about everyone’s “favourite Star Wars memory.” Their contest advises, “It could be the first time you saw the films, meeting Mark Hamill at Comic-Con, dressing up as Yoda...anything at all.” And any which way too: “You can enter by comment, picture or video, on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.”

Made from decidedly more analog (and old-fashioned) paper and plastic, during AMC Entertainment’s “Star Wars Sundays,” guests who purchase a ticket to experience The Force Awakens in IMAX 3D “will receive an AMC exclusive ‪#‎TheForceAwakens print from artist Dan Mumford.” Just as a new poster is revealed each week, Regal’s own 500 collectible tickets will have different designs each week as well. Best of all, fans can grab a hold of both, as Regal Cinemas offer their IMAX-ized incentives on Saturdays.

More was in store on Thursday, Dec, 17, with “All Seven Movies, One Epic Journey” leading up to The Force Awakens. As AMC’s 39 participating theatres put it, “It’s the ultimate STAR WARS event… The force will be with you. And so will these: Event lanyard, AMC Exclusive Stormtrooper Pin,” as “AMC Stubs members receive $10 Bonus Bucks.” Santikos Theatres also hosted the marathon and offered The Force Awakens “for 78 hours straight” at their Palladium IMAX and Silverado locations in San Antonio and in Houston, Texas. At least 36 AMC locations, “more than one-tenth of the AMC circuit” ran shows around the clock opening night, “helping ensure that anyone who wants to be among the first to see the movie has that opportunity.” At Bow Tie Cinemas’ legendary Ziegfeld Theatre in Manhattan, for $19 in 3D, The Force was awake “ALL DAY. EVERY DAY. OPENING WEEKEND.”

For £4.99 (US$7.60), the Vue is both clear and cool with special SW:TFA 3D glasses. “Choose from either a Stormtrooper set or Kylo Ren.” Back in the USA, “Make sure to stop by your local Cinemark to purchase these exclusive #StarWars: The Force Awakens gift cards! Plus, if you load $35 or more, you’ll receive a $5 bonus concession coupon!”

Making sure that the lines at the stand keep moving is another aspect of the cinemarketing for Star Wars. Even with reserved seating available at six of Santikos’ nine super-plex locations “to better assist customers with their interpretation of the ‘best seat’ in the auditorium” (that wording alone is worth noting), managers “are still asking customers to arrive early” to ensure that guests can “get fan favorites at the concession stand in a timely manner and with ease before showtime.” At AMC Theatres as well, assigned seating is “leaving enough time before the movie starts to get…popcorn, pizza and a soda or beer to enjoy with the show.” (At non-reserved seating locations, “AMC planned to open its auditoriums at least one hour before the 7 p.m. showtime on opening night, and possibly sooner at some locations.)

Speaking of pizza, beer and other fan favorites and activities, check out FJI’s note about the special Star Wars-themed menu available at Alamo Drafthouses across the country and read all about the Death Star-themed lobby of their latest in Omaha, Nebraska, in our upcoming February issue.

Back in Texas again, Santikos Theatres added warp speed to the proceedings. (Sorry, wrong space franchise, I know.) Their “Fandomania” events are premieres where fans are invited to dress in costumes related to the film, Santikos explains. “At each location there will be hourly drawings for guests who participate…and prizes range from free popcorn to movies for a year.” On a practical note, “each location will have a check-in table where participants can register and have their costume approved. Any props resembling a weapon such as ‘blasters’ will not be permitted. Lightsabers and masks are allowed,” however. It is certainly a sign of the times that AMC Theatres are issuing a similar missive. “Wear a costume but leave your mask and blaster at home,” the circuit said, reiterating that its “longstanding costume policy prohibits masks, face paint, weapons and items that would make other guests feel uncomfortable or detract from the moviegoing experience.”

Addressing ticket availability, as both AMC and Santikos have done, represents another sign of the box-office times mentioned above. The latter reminded guests about “thousands of seats” available on opening weekend, showcasing the film in six different, including “the best possible,” experiences: 10,773 seats in IMAX 3D; 26,163 for AVX (The Ultimate Audio and Visual Experience); and 1,214 seats available “in our Bistro houses featuring luxury recliner seating.” Two weeks prior to the Star Wars blast-off, AMC Theatres issued moviegoer tips for opening weekend: “Even with 1,600 auditoriums already guaranteed to be filled with fans, 3.5 million seats remain,” it was noted, “including more than a half-million tickets in IMAX 3D and Dolby Cinema at AMC Prime.”

All of this savvy cinemarketing has primed the business for a massive turnout. The Force is strong indeed.