- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 3, 2003

Parents, children and teens thronged the Muvico Egyptian 24 Theaters over the weekend, helping the Hanover, Md., megaplex break the record for the largest ticket sales in the nation.

The theater complex nestling inside the Arundel Mills mall grossed the highest number of ticket sales from May 30 to June 1, according to A.C. Neilsen Entertainment Data Inc., a Hollywood, Calif., company that tracks box-office information.

With glittering glass versions of the Nile River on its textile floors, pharaoh statues, stadium seating for 5,000, and red, full-length chairs, the megaplex sold $137,805 in tickets to “Finding Nemo” alone, the Neilsen report said. The report did not give individual theater sales.

The Disney cartoon movie’s opening raked in more than $70 million nationwide, contributing to the megaplex’s weekend success, said Hamid Hashemi, president and chief executive officer of Muvico Theaters, a Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.-based owner and operator of 12 theaters in Maryland, Tennessee and Florida.

He said the Egyptian 24 is showing a strong combination of movies, from “Nemo” and “Bruce Almighty” for families and “The Matrix: Reloaded” and “Wrong Turn” for evening crowds.

But other amenities, such as supervised child playrooms and larger concession menus, have kept customers coming back.

“The location is also great for the Egyptian, because it’s at a convenient distance between Baltimore and Washington,” Mr. Hashemi said.

Laurel resident Jenny Villarrael, who encountered large crowds Saturday when she went with her husband to see “The Matrix: Reloaded,” said that she, nonetheless, prefers to watch movies at the cinema.

The couple bought tickets for a 7:45 p.m. screening, but could not get a seat until 9 p.m. owing to the crowds, Mrs. Villarrael said.

“That’s just the price you pay, but it’s worth it,” she said after watching “Finding Nemo” with her daughter yesterday afternoon.

The decor and spacious seating were worth the 20-minute drive for Debbie Smith, a Severna Park, Md., resident and two-year-old son Luke.

“It was our first time here, but we’ll be coming back because the seating and screen were great for watching with Luke,” Mrs. Smith said while her son squirmed furiously in her arms.

While he would not disclose ticket sales, Mr. Hashemi said Egyptian 24 frequently makes the No. 1 spot in the Neilsen report. Muvico’s Paradise 24 in Davie, Fla., followed during the weekend as No. 2 in ticket sales.

“It’s one of the better-grossing theaters, and I often see it in the top 10,” said Dan Marks, Neilsen executive vice president.

Gross sales for all movie theaters in the nation reached $174.9 million for the weekend, Mr. Marks said.

“When we went into the megaplex market, we expected to be in the top 10, but certainly not to this extent,” Mr. Hashemi said.

A projected 12 percent revenue growth for the year has accelerated Muvico’s plans for two new theaters in the Washington/Baltimore area and two in Central and South Florida, Mr. Hashemi said. He did not specify when or where groundwork on the four megaplexes would begin.

Muvico started out with three screens in Florida in 1984 and sold all its 59 theaters in 1995 to build megaplexes, consisting of 20 or more screens.

“We wanted to focus solely on the megaplex market and give crowds more options,” Mr. Hashemi said. “All cinemas have the same movie package, but they differentiate by how they present the building, atmosphere and serving side.”

In 2000, Muvico opened five theaters totaling 104 screens, growing to 12 theaters with 233 screens.

Matthew Harrigan, a movie-industry analyst with Colorado brokerage firm Janco Partners, said the switch mirrors an industry trend.

“The company still operates on a small scale in the industry, but megaplexes are the fastest-growing theater in the industry, so who knows how much Muvico will grow,” he said.

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