LOS ANGELES—In a deal that has sent shock waves through the entertainment industry, Cineplex Odeon, the nation's second largest movie-theater chain, has agreed in principle to a 10-picture, $70 deal with Harrisburg, PA, bank teller Douglas Phelps.
The blockbuster deal, first reported by Variety and subsequently confirmed by Cineplex Odeon vice-president Michael Katz, is believed to be the largest ever signed between a film distributor and a moviegoer.
"This is a real coup for Cineplex Odeon," Katz said. "With his incredible movie-going track record, Doug Phelps has to be considered one of the nation's most consistently box-office drawn."
The deal was finalized Monday evening during a meeting between Phelps and Jennifer Van Brocklin, 19, a ticket seller at Harrisburg's South Towne Multiplex theater. Phelps paid for the entire deal up front, giving Van Brocklin four $20 bills in exchange for a legally binding contract in the form of a Cineplex Odeon "Bonus Savings Pak" and $10 change.
Phelps then returned one of his newly acquired discount movie passes to Van Brocklin in order to gain admission to Conspiracy Theory, which multiplex sources say was showing in theater five at the time.
While the 10-picture Bonus Pak deal is expected to save Phelps, long known for his patented "cross-legged" style of viewing, an estimated $10 on regularly priced movie admissions, many believe that it is Cineplex Odeon that stands to gain the most from the deal.
According to Variety editor Ron Sacks, Phelps' presence will strongly draw other moviegoers to Cineplex Odeon theaters.
"In Douglas Phelps, Cineplex Odeon has signed a guy who can put people in the seats," Sacks said. "He has a proven track record of good movie choices: This summer, he avoided Batman & Robin, Buddy and The Fifth Element, sensing trouble. Of the two Nicolas Cage movies out, he chose Face/Off, not Con Air. That's the kind of instinct you can't teach. Believe me, where Doug Phelps goes, others will follow."
Movie-industry insiders project that Cineplex Odeon could net an additional $57.50 in concessions-stand revenue from the deal if Phelps averages a $3.50 large popcorn and $2.25 medium drink purchase over the course of the 10 pictures.
There is still no word as to what film Phelps will see next, though a neighbor, who wished to remain anonymous, said that he recently overheard Phelps' girlfriend saying she wanted to "see something romantic this weekend." The report has prompted speculation that he will take her to see Picture Perfect, starring Jennifer Aniston, though many question whether the film meets Phelps' quality standards.
As a result of the blockbuster Phelps-Odeon deal, other major theater chains are now scrambling to develop their own stables of top-notch moviegoers. On Tuesday, Loews Cinemas signed Council Bluffs, IA, math teacher Sandra Lombard to a five-picture deal whose terms remain undisclosed. Sony Theaters is said to be near closing an unprecedented 12-picture, $75 deal with Philadelphia-area dentist Larry Mushnick.
Mary Barton, a Sony spokesperson, denied rumors that her company was once approached by Phelps. "As far as I know, none of Sony's five clean, air-conditioned theaters in the Harrisburg area were visited by Mr. Phelps prior to his deal at [the South Towne Multiplex]," Barton said. "While we wish Mr. Phelps a pleasant movie-going experience at Cineplex Odeon, we are confident that our own pantheon of diverse, dynamic cinema fans will continue to make Sony Theaters the place for watching films."
Reaction to Monday's deal was mixed among the moviemaking public.
"I don't have a problem with it," said Los Angeles-area actor Sylvester Stallone, 49. "The guy ought to be paid whatever the market will bear." New York writer-director Nora Ephron, however, questioned the priorities exemplified by the deal. "When a person is getting a $10 discount just to watch movies, while a hard-working actress like my friend Carrie Fisher makes less than a million per, it's time we started re-examining our values as a society."