Date: 22nd October 2003
Echoing Gollum's covetous cries of "My precious!" fans of The Lord of the Rings are competing with one another over the precious few tickets to New Line Cinema's special marathon showing of the Rings trilogy, scheduled for Dec. 16.
Rabid fans lined up around blocks and jammed online sites last week to attempt to buy tickets to New Line's "Trilogy Tuesday." To promote the third film in the trilogy, The Return of the King, which bows nationwide Dec. 17, New Line arranged for marathon public screenings in limited theaters Dec. 16, with showings of the extended versions of director Peter Jackson's The Fellowship of the Ring and The Two Towers to screen before the midnight debut of King.
But demand proved to be so overwhelming that many would-be ticket buyers left empty-handed as New Line's attempt to herald the conclusion of the epic turned into a cultural phenomenon with tickets selling out in a matter of hours at the 99 U.S. locations that will host the marathon. That, in turn, has spurred angry e-mails and inflated eBay prices.
Tickets, which went on sale Oct. 9, ranged from $25-$49 each and drew so many fans that online ticketing sites became clogged, forcing theaters to open their box offices to handle the demand for what had been originally designed as an online promotion.
According to AMC Theaters spokesman Rick King, the Kansas City, Mo.-based chain sold out its 15 theaters within the hour, switching to box-office sales after its Internet exclusive offer crashed its Web site, MovieTickets.com, within 10 minutes of going on sale.
At Fandango.com, the online ticketing agency that services Regal Entertainment's theaters, Loews theaters, and others, the 42-theater inventory sold out in a matter of hours.
"It was really phenomenal," Fandango.com CEO Art Levitt said. "It's the most successful promotion we've ever experienced — there is no question about that. There really was tremendous pent-up demand. The majority of our customer service inquiries in the last two weeks have all been about the trilogy."
All that success has been much more than New Line can — or even wants — to handle. Requests have flooded the company, coming from exhibitors, who are undaunted by the logistics of keeping patrons in theaters for 11 straight hours, and also from many unlucky fans.
"Obviously, at the outset we advocated for more houses, but this was a promotional deal, and we accepted that," King said. "Clearly, this is the fastest sellout rate we've ever experienced."
Added Regal spokesman Dick Westerling, "We did have discussions with New Line about expanding it but agreed to limit it to the initial number of theaters and auditoriums. Obviously, demand exceeded the capacity, but that was the announced strategy that we had agreed to stick with."
New Line has no plans to expand the promotion, even though that means it won't be able to please the trilogy's entire fan base.
"We've been asked to make more theaters available, but the problem is we can never provide enough," said David Tuckerman, president of distribution at New Line Cinema. "This was originally done as a marketing initiative to pay back the fans who want to see it all in one swoop. It was never intended to be a moneymaking deal for us."
In addition to the marathon Dec. 15 showings, New Line also will prime the pump with theatrical bookings of the extended version of Fellowship, playing by itself from Dec. 5-11, followed by the extended version of Towers, which is set for Dec. 12-15.
But while New Line and the exhibitors are purposely leaving some dollars on the table, individual ticket holders are still profiting. Late Wednesday, 34 pairs of tickets were being auctioned on eBay, with the highest asking price coming from a San Francisco seller, offering tickets at $455 a pair.
"It's a one-time thing," said Rings fan Bruce Steele, who got his tickets Oct. 9 at Pacific Theaters' Cinerama Dome. "This is the only film I'd sit through 11 hours of movie for, but as long as you can see the extended editions on screens, you might as well see them all together."
That kind of fan commitment probably augurs well for New Line in the long run. Even though the company is not fully exploiting the current demand for the trilogy, it may offer theatrical engagements of the entire Rings cycle in the future. According to one studio insider, New Line could issue a special release of the trilogy five to 10 years down the road. Although the current Rings hysteria will have long since died down, a Rings revival could make for a tidy annuity for the studio. "It's great job security," the insider joked.
Source: Press Release