Cineplex buys Famous Players

Imagine Marvel buying DC, or Pepsi buying Coke.

That’s kind of what it feels like to hear that Cineplex Galaxy LP is taking the Famous Players theatre chain off of the hands of Viacom Inc., as reported today by the Canadian Press, Associated Press, Reuters and The Globe and Mail.

I don’t know much about the movie-theatre culture back east, but I do know that, in Vancouver, for as long as I can remember and up until Cinemark opened a single theatre here a few years ago, Cineplex (formerly Odeon) and Famous Players ran pretty much every theatre in town except for the independent arthouse and second-run venues; and even there, Famous Players owns a portion of the semi-arthouse Alliance-Atlantis chain.

There was always something of a Tweedledum and Tweedledee aspect to their “competition”, as they always seemed to introduce policies in tandem — instituting $2.50 Tuesdays back in the ’80s, setting a one-price-fits-all-showtimes policy a couple years ago, etc. — so in a way the merger is no big deal; it just eliminates the redundancy. But I have always liked the popcorn, the decor, even the smell of the Famous Players theatres better.

I’m also a little surprised to see who’s buying who here. Over the past decade, Famous Players went on a building spree, erecting megaplex Silver City and Colossus outlets in the suburbs, and barely more than a month ago they opened the Paramount theatre in downtown Vancouver, just a few blocks from where I live; meanwhile, Cineplex seemed to be having greater difficulties, financially, as it shut down all but three of its theatres in the area. But I guess it’s possible Famous Players overstretched itself, or maybe Cineplex was always stronger somewhere else.

Meanwhile, the plot thickens: The Competition Bureau has stipulated that Cineplex, having bought its main competitor, must now sell 35 theatres, which would be something like a fifth of the combined chains’ venues. And Vancouver is one of the towns where Cineplex theatres must be sold. Could be interesting to see which places get snapped up, and by whom.

JUNE 14 UPDATE: The National Post and Vancouver Sun now have their own stories up, too.

JUNE 23 UPDATE: Don’t know why I didn’t post this sooner, but the Georgia Straight has an interesting follow-up on the effect that this sale may have on the Vancouver Int’l Film Festival. Basically, as all the other venues on what used to be known as “theatre row” have shut down over the years (bye-bye, Plaza, Paradise, Caprice, Vancouver Centre, and now Capitol), the festival has come to rely pretty strongly on the Granville, a 7-screen multiplex that is owned by Cineplex. Now, thanks to the merger and the requirement that it sell off some theatres, it is quite possible that Cineplex will sell this venue to someone else. And it’s anybody’s guess what the festival would do for venues after that.

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  • Jeremy L

    In Ontario it’s been Cineplex & Famous Players until the late 90’s when AMC and Galaxy showed up. AMC is mostly in the Toronto area, and Galaxy was bought by Cineplex last year.

    I seem to recall Cineplex being on the verge of bankrupcy a few years ago, then being bought by Onex and somehow saved. I agree with you that FP were always nicer, but I prefer the Galaxy multiplexes to the SilverCity/Colosus theatres as they are slightly less tacky.

    I wonder what will happen to the theatres in K-W. Until a few years ago they would have definitely had to sell one or two off, but now our Waterloo indie has expanded to 3 screens (2 locations) and Kitchener has an indie theatre from when Cineplex sold off it’s cheap theatre in town a few years ago (more mainstream fils, but cheap).

  • trent

    My question is: what happens to Famous, the magazine, in all this?

    Or is Famous the Magazine still a going concern? We only have a second-run theatre within two-hours of where I live, so I don’t know. I saw Piece of Sith in Edmonton a few weeks ago, but I was running late, and I didn’t think to look for the in-theatre mag when I came out of the screening. To busy trying to decided if I actually liked it.

  • I prefer the Galaxy multiplexes to the SilverCity/Colosus theatres as they are slightly less tacky.

    I don’t believe I have ever been to a Galaxy multiplex. Cineplex, as its name suggests, was a pioneer in developing multiplex theatres — the long-gone Royal Centre theatre in downtown Vancouver had ten screens, some of them in rooms barely larger than the average living room, and it frequently showed artier films and documentaries and the like. But when Famous Players started building the SilverCity theatres and others that had the stadium-style seating (we have ’em in Richmond, Burnaby, Coquitlam, Surrey and Langley, at least), Cineplex was barely able to build just one of these, way off in one of the more remote parts of Surrey, before financial woes forced them to close most of their other theatres. A friend of mine lives just a few blocks from that theatre now, but I don’t think I have ever been inside it. And I’m not even sure whether it’s called a “Galaxy” theatre or a “Cineplex” theatre or what.

    My question is: what happens to Famous, the magazine, in all this?

    Yeah, Deanna grabbed a copy when we saw Batman Begins last night, and I wondered that too. Mind you, it’s possible that Cineplex will keep the Famous Players brand name.

    Another question I have is what will become of the “Paramount” theatres, like the one that opened just a few blocks from where I live. Paramount Pictures, the studio, began as a studio called Famous Players in Famous Plays, and I think the studio was required to jettison its theatres after a U.S. Supreme Court decision in 1948; however, both Paramount Pictures and Famous Players were bought by Viacom a decade or two ago, so if Famous Players wanted to slap a Paramount logo on the side of one of their buildings, they pretty much had the legal right to do so. But now that Paramount and Famous Players are owned by two different companies? I dunno.

  • Anonymous

    My question – Will Cineplex accept gift certificates which have been purchased with Air Miles but are issued as Famous Players certificates? I sure hope so!