Fox, Lucas let tickets to `Menace' be pre-sold

April 26, 1999|By Dave McNary | Dave McNary,LOS ANGELES DAILY NEWS

LOS ANGELES -- Cancel those plans to camp out in line, at least during the week before "Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace" opens on May 19.

Tickets for "Phantom Menace," the most anticipated movie since "Gone With the Wind," will go on sale a week before its May 19 opening. Tickets will be available through theater box offices and the MovieFone credit-card ticket service on May 12, beginning at noon local time.

The agreement to sell advance tickets is a significant concession by "Star Wars" creator George Lucas and 20th-Century Fox, who asked a month ago for a ban on presales for the first two weeks of showings in order to discourage scalping.

"From an exhibition point of view, one week for advance sales is a good compromise," said Richard Fay, president of AMC Film Marketing. "We're in the business of satisfying customers and this goes a long way toward that goal. It makes our job a lot easier."

The news is also good for dozens of hard-core fans who set up camp in early April outside Mann's Chinese Theatre in Hollywood and theaters in the Westwood Village section of Los Angeles so they could be the first to buy tickets.

"Theater owners have agreed to make every reasonable effort to first accommodate those fans already standing in line," Fox said in a statement posted on the site.

MovieFone, which provides advance sales for more than 18,000 of the nation's 34,000 screens, said that to discourage scalping it would allow only two six-ticket transactions on a single credit card within a one-week period. Theaters will also be required to limit customers to 12 tickets per purchase, Fox said.

Also, Fox hopes theaters will not allow customers to make multiple purchases within a short period although Fox executive Tom Sherak acknowledged enforcing that condition could be problematical.

MovieFone spokeswoman Christine Facundiny said the percentages of tickets allocated for phone vs. box-office sales have not been decided since contracts to play "Phantom Menace" won't be signed until early May. Agreements over how many tickets MovieFone can sell vary from theater to theater, she added.

Paul Dergarabedian, president of the Exhibitor Relations Co. tracking service, said theater chains will welcome the decision to allow advance sales. "I'm sure they're happy because presales will act as a pressure release valve," he said.

Lucas has said he expects "Phantom Menace," the first new "Star Wars" film in 16 years, to gross $400 million domestically.

Lucas and Fox have asked for unprecedented terms from theaters before allowing them to screen "Phantom Menace." Theaters will have to guarantee that the film will play for at least eight weeks in the building's largest auditorium, that trailers will be limited and that the theater will get smaller percentages of gross box office revenue in the first weeks.

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