LOS ANGELES >> Half a decade after “The Hunger Games” catapulted Lionsgate into the ranks of the major studios, the company is betting its young-adult franchises will make it a major player in the theme park business.
The Santa Monica-based film and TV studio has high hopes for Lionsgate-themed parks in South Korea and China set to debut in the next several years. By the end of 2020, the studio says, its stable of indoor and outdoor attractions should bring in about 20 million visitors.
The studio is hoping its budding theme parks business will help turn Lionsgate into an international household name and boost its film brands abroad, assuring that its franchises live outside the multiplex.
Like Katniss Everdeen fighting the Capitol, Lionsgate faces a daunting task in a theme park industry long dominated by titans such as Disney and Universal.
Lionsgate executives are confident they can compete by tapping fast-growing international markets including China, and by catering to the teens and young adults who flock to its films. The audience for the “Hunger Games” and “Twilight” movies represents a prime demographic for theme park operators looking to sell food, drinks and merchandise, experts said.
“It’s not Mickey Mouse, and it’s not Superman and Batman, but those franchises have their appeal,” said Martin Lewison, a theme park expert and business management professor at Farmingdale State College in New York. “The majority of people who go to theme parks with lots of thrill rides are teenagers, so I can see how that would be attractive to people in that space.”
Lionsgate opened its first “Hunger Games”-themed land in Dubai’s new Motiongate park in October — including a “Hunger Games” roller coaster and flight simulator.
Next year, the studio will open Lionsgate Entertainment World, a 237,000-square foot development in Hengqin, China, that will be the studio’s first indoor theme park. The building, part of a larger entertainment complex, will feature a virtual reality motorcycle simulation ride based on the “Twilight” vampire movies.
Lionsgate’s first outdoor park is expected to make its debut in South Korea in 2020 in the tourism hub of Jeju Island, where the company has partnered with Hong Kong-based developer Landing International Development. The project will boast a re-creation of the “Hunger Games” opulent Capitol, complete with a restaurant based on President Snow’s mansion. The park is also set to have a horror-themed area with attractions based on “Saw” and “Cabin in the Woods.”
“You’ll literally feel like you’ve stepped inside the world of the films in each zone you go into,” said Jenefer Brown, who leads an eight-person Lionsgate team focused on theme parks and live entertainment.
Unlike the established giants, Lionsgate doesn’t plan to own and operate theme parks, which are costly and risky ventures. Instead, it will license its characters and work with third parties to mine its catalog of film franchises.
Lionsgate collects a cut of ticket sales and merchandise revenue. The studio projects that its location-based entertainment business will generate $250 million in profit during the next 10 years.
Other companies — including “Walking Dead” channel AMC Networks — have followed similar licensing strategies to carve out a niche in theme parks. The most successful example is Universal Studios’ Wizarding World of Harry Potter, based on the films by Time Warner Inc.’s Warner Bros. film studio. That attraction, which opened in Universal Orlando Resort in 2010, significantly boosted attendance.
The studio’s latest U.S. projects are more small-scale, including a Las Vegas escape room based on the “Saw” movies. Next year, Lionsgate is planning to debut an indoor space in New York’s Times Square called Lionsgate Entertainment City, with a “Mad Men” restaurant and lounge. A similar project is planned for Madrid, and the company is considering additional locations in the U.S. and Europe.
“The U.S. market is fairly saturated for theme parks, so it’s not where the biggest opportunities exist for us,” said Kerry Phelan, head of global franchise management for Lionsgate. “International was a much bigger opportunity.”
In addition to the big names such as “Hunger Games,” Lionsgate is milking more obscure movies for its licensed theme parks.
“Gods of Egypt,” for example, was a pricey flop at the domestic box office in 2016, but Lionsgate is betting that its relative popularity overseas will justify a virtual reality ride in the planned Chinese park. The Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger action movie “Escape Plan” is getting an escape room game as part of the Lionsgate project in Hengqin. There’s also a stunt show inspired by the “Expendables” movies.
“Internationally, people can’t get enough of ‘The Expendables,’” said Lionsgate’s worldwide marketing President Tim Palen, whose job includes overseeing the theme parks business. “In China, Sylvester Stallone is a god, for real.”