OCEAN CITY — Don Fox knows that folks have been waiting a long time to see the new “Star Wars” movie. That’s why he’s glad he can offer them a theater where they can kick their feet up and watch the epic fantasy film in style.
Record crowds and long lines are expected at movie theaters all across the nation, including Fox’s Sun and Surf Cinema, this week as Star Wars: The Force Awakens opens Thursday amid projections that it could potentially break every domestic and worldwide box office record in history.
Fox, president of Fox Theaters in Wyomissing, Pa., admits that while losing almost 60% of his seating during the $1.5 million renovation at the uptown movie theater last winter was a big risk, the reward has been even greater in the first year.
“Since we installed the recliner seating at the Sun and Surf, our ticket sales are up 80%,” said Fox, “and that is remarkable when you realize that the national trend is showing only a 5-8% increase in ticket sales.”
Those more than respectable numbers are expected to take an even higher leap in the next few weeks as “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” is breaking pre-sale records on almost a daily basis.
“This film will have an enormous impact on the theater’s profitability and the entire movie industry as a whole,” said Fox. “Our advance ticket sales for “Star Wars” have broken every record we’ve ever had for advance ticket sales by a pretty big margin.”
Sun and Surf will be showing multiple screenings of the latest installment of the George Lucas series, which opens Thursday night, worldwide.
“We will have four or five auditoriums showing the film starting at 7 p.m. and they will run throughout opening night,” said Fox. “We still have a handful of seats available for some of the screenings, so if people still want to come, I’d advise them to log on to the website as soon as they can.”
Fox says the “recliner model” that Sun and Surf offers movie-goers offers a different experience for viewers in the sense that folks won’t have to wait in line nor camp out in front of the theater in order to get a seat.
“With our model, you can buy your ticket online or at the box office, and your seat is reserved,” said Fox. “I know some people like the spontaneity of deciding last minute to see a film, but in the case of a movie like “Star Wars,” people like that they can pick their seat in advance.”
On another level, Fox believes that the latest Star Wars film will provide a huge boost for the movie industry as the Christmas movie season is a vital time for the business.
“The summer season is 13 weeks long and we see a lot of blockbusters during that time,” said Fox, “but this time of year is also very important, and if you look at what other studios are releasing up against “Star Wars,” I think it will be a very strong end of the year.”
Fox points to other films opening on the same day as Star Wars and notes the differences in target demographic to highlight his theory.
“While “Star Wars” caters to a broad age range of mostly males, ‘Alvin and the Chipmunks: Road Chip’ caters to young kids and their parents. Likewise, the Tina Fey and Amy Poehler comedy ‘Sisters,’ which is aimed at a diverse female audience will ensure a strong end of the year,” he said.
Fox doesn’t contest that either of those films will come close to competing with the box office draw of “Star Wars,” but he noted that other films will likely “rise with the tide” of the film that also boasts a partnership between Lucasfilms and Disney.
As far as goals go for the film’s impact on a local level, Fox says his organization has been cognizant of the seasonal nature of the region’s economy.
“We know there are essentially two seasons here that matter,” he said, “and that’s winter and summer.”
Some experts say the film could rake in more than $200 million on opening weekend, but that would fall short of the all-time record for largest opening weekend. That title is held by “Jurassic World,” which grossed in over $208 million in its first weekend.
Worldwide, “Jurassic World” also holds the box office title of foreign release films $316.7 million and the global tally of $525.5 million.
More importantly, Fox says the film looks to be worth the long wait, and the huge hype, and no matter what, it’s an exciting time to go to the movies.
“I haven’t seen [Star Wars] yet, but I’ve been told that it delivers big time,” he said.