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Rocking and rolling: CJ 4DPLEX looks forward to a year of growth

Film Journal International (February 23, 2015)

2015 is shaping up to be a big year for CJ’s 4DPlex, a premier provider of the technologically advanced wonder that is 4DX, which looks at even the fanciest 3D tech and says “Pah - that’s so 20th century.” 4DX ups moviegoers’ bang-per-buck by bringing fog, wind, rain, bubbles, lightning, even smells (think flowers or roasted coffee, or burning rubber for more action-oriented films), into the theatre. And then there are the movement effects: Seats with special motion simulators use three basic movements - “heave,” “roll,” and “pitch” - in combination to provide moviegoers with a fluid experience that mirrors the action on the screen, whether it’s Jennifer Lawrence shooting down an enemy ship in The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1 or Matthew McConaughey flying a spaceship through a wormhole in Interstellar.

Audiences “very much enjoy the immersive experience and the feeling of being ‘in the movie,’” says CJ entertainment and media chief marketing officer Angela Killoren. “Studios have also embraced this new technology, as it brings audiences back to movie theatres to get an experience that they would not receive in the comfort of their own homes.”

In 2014, after finding success overseas with films like Avatar, 4DX made its U.S. debut when 4DPlex partnered with Regal Entertainment to bring the technology to the L.A. Live Stadium 14 complex in Los Angeles, where it was soon racking up a whopping 63% occupancy rate. In total, last year saw 4DPlex launch 53 new screens in seven new territories, for a total of 150 screens in 30 countries. And while ticket sales shrunk for the industry as a whole - a recent study by the National Association of Theatre Owners indicates that the number of people who went to the movies in 2014 was the lowest it’s been in two decades - the novelty (not to mention the quality) of 4DX drew moviegoers in. Over its first full six months of operation, the per-seat box-office haul for the L.A. Live Stadium clocked in at five times what non-4DX theatres in the same theatre earned. Last summer, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes made $94,247 in one 4DX theatre over its first 13 days, whereas the industry average over the same period was a paltry-by-comparison $38,404.

Last year, a total of 74 films, representing “all six major Hollywood studios and mini-majors,” Killoren points out, were released, with big-budget tentpoles Transformers: Age of Extinction, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, Guardians of the Galaxy, Interstellar, The Hunger Games: Part 1 - Mockingjay and The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies doing particularly well. “Even in a down year for the industry, 4DX has shown that investment in immersive viewing experience has paid off through higher box office and occupancy rates,” Killoren explains.

But - to paraphrase All About Eve’s Margo Channing in a much more literal context than its writer initially intended?fasten your seatbelts, because it’s going to be an even bumpier 2015. In January, the U.K.’s first 4DX cinema opened at Cineworld Milton Keynes, with its high-tech motion seats and special effects being applied to Matthew Vaughn’s Kingsman: The Secret Service. One to two additional locations are being planned for the U.S. by the end of the year - this FJI editor selfishly hopes one of them is in New York - and the company “continue[s] to grow internationally, where the 4DX format is now becoming an integral part of many exhibitors’ business plans,” says Killoren. By the time 2015 comes to a close, 4DPlex anticipates that they will have added 120 new screens, for a worldwide total of 260. Add in the first half of 2016, and they expect to reach the big 300.

Naysayers might believe that 4DX will have a tough time sustaining its growth once the novelty wears off, but Killoren only sees its appeal expanding as time goes on. While it’s true now that 4DX’s demographic skews young and male - 70% of ticket buyers are men compared to 30% women, and the tech holds particular appeal to the 13-24 age bracket that theatres in general are having a hard time holding onto as the onslaught of streaming media continues - “4DX is not limited to a certain genre of movie or certain audience target group, and we expect a wider range of audiences will come to experience 4DX [in the coming years].” Filmmakers are also getting in on the action. Gravity director Alfonso Cuaron has expressed interest in the format, and after watching his film in a 4DX theatre, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles director Jonathan Liebesman said 4DX is “beyond my imagination. For the first time…it reached the level I wished that I had in my head. It’s just [a] whole other level for the audiences.”

Given that endorsement, it’s a fair bet that the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles sequel, though not directed by Liebesman, will air in 4DX when it premieres in 2016. But before then, there’s a bumper crop of this year’s movies that Killoren is looking forward to bringing 4DX’s unique brand of magic to. “I am particularly excited for Furious 7, Avengers: Age of Ultron, Jurassic World and Spectre to be released in 4DX,” she says. “I think with all the action sequences, and our effects, these films are a perfect fit.”