Why Vue Cinemas have fewer How To Train Your Dragon 3 screenings this weekend

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Exclusive: Vue Cinemas isn’t just not showing Mary Queen Of Scots – its dispute with Universal looks like it’s affecting screenings of How To Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World too.

Just a quick Friday update on this: as the film opens around the UK, Vue Cinemas on the whole have far fewer showings of How To Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World than other chains. I’ve asked Vue for clarification on this, but as yet haven’t heard back.

At the start of the week, we reported the news that Vue Cinema and Universal appeared to be at loggerheads (the full story of that is here). It’s come to light because in spite of the film being in the top five at the box office since its release, Vue isn’t showing Universal’s Mary Queen Of Scots. That across the chain’s 87 or so sites in the UK, you can’t find a single showing of it.

We’ve since been contacted by one or two people within the industry, who have explained what the problem is.

Last year, Vue Cinemas announced an aggressive price policy, that saw a fixed, reduced ticket price of £4.99 rolled out across around a quarter of its sites. Now that price has gone up a little in some places since, but Vue has been bringing the price of a cinema ticket down in several locations, and that’s caused some consternation within the industry. The argument being, of course, that studios are spending more on films, and they need the revenue from the box office to keep doing so.

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Vue first clashed with Warner Bros last autumn, over the release of Bradley Cooper’s A Star Is Born. This kept the film off Vue screens for the first week of its release, before the matter was eventually resolved. But the nub of that disagreement was that Warner Bros and Vue disagreed over who got how much of the ticket price. With Vue discounted tickets heavily, studios are looking for slightly different terms.

That’s reared its head again with Mary Queen Of Scots this year, and Vue – once again – has stood its ground, and as a consequence, the film looks likely to be off the chain’s screens this coming weekend too.

But the bigger test lies in Universal’s next release, How To Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World. This is set to be the first big family movie of the year, and – with due respect to Mary Queen Of Scots – a far heavier box office performer. It’s also out this Friday, February 1st.

My nearest cinema, the Empire in Rubery, has 14 showings of the film this coming Saturday alone, including three in IMAX. Next up the road is the Odeon in Dudley, has 13. Meanwhile, the nearest Vue is up at Star City, one of the sites that has a £4.99 blanket ticket price. It has two screenings listed (and three on Friday). And this isn’t a case of waiting for the full listing, either. All of Saturday’s screenings are up for pre-booking already, including three showings of Hey Duggee At The Cinema!

I love Hey Duggee, but even I wouldn’t suggest it’s likely to outperform How To Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World. Yet the three screenings on Friday and two on Saturday pattern appears reflected for Dragon across the entire Vue network.

I did find one anomaly. Vue’s Sheffield site was listing 10 screenings on Saturday when I got to the page through a Google search rather than directly. Take a look…

But clicking on one of those screenings to book leads to an error page.

Go through the main Vue site directly, and three screenings are available on Friday, two on Saturday, both with booking working.

Something is clearly amiss here, and putting together pieces, that Sheffield listing suggests there were originally plans to show the film as widely as every other chain, but Vue since pulled back on that.

Perhaps it had entered into an agreement to show the film before the dispute between it and Universal escalated, and thus it’s defaulted down to the bare minimum number of screenings it can contractually get away with? That’s speculation on my part, but something is clearly going on here.

This may, of course, all resolve over the coming days, but quietly, it seems that there’s a clash developing here between a cinema chain and a movie studio, and at the moment, it’s the former who is refusing to blink.

Lead image: BigStock
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