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Hunger Games leads to fulfilling profit

Box-office hit "The Hunger Games" help fuel a dramatic boost in Cineplex Inc.'s earnings in the first quarter and with it a dividend increase for shareholders.

The first instalment of the trilogy by the same name had the highest-grossing first-quarter weekend of all-time and the third-largest opening weekend of all-time, Canada's largest movie theatre company said Thursday.

"A strong film slate including titles such as 'The Hunger Games' and 'Dr. Seuss' The Lorax' contributed to a 12.1 per cent increase in both attendance and total revenue," president and CEO Ellis Jacob said.

The Hunger Games helped Cinexplex post a $15.1-million profit for the quarter ended March 31, a marked improvement over the $800,000 loss the company (TSX:CGX) booked in the same period last year.

On a per-share basis the company earned 26 cents, up from a loss of a penny per share in the first three months of 2011.

Revenue for the quarter was $248.2 million, up 12 per cent from $221.4 million a year ago, as attendance was also up 12 per cent at 17.1 million customers.

The improved results helped Cineplex increase its monthly payment to shareholders to 11.25 cents per share, up from 10.75 cents per share. Based on the company's share price Thursday, the stock will have an annual yield of about 4.4 per cent.

Box office revenue improved to $149.4 million, up from $130 million a year ago, while box office revenue per patron, a key metric in the industry, was $8.72, up from $8.51 year over year.

The concession stand also did brisk business, with revenues up 18 per cent to $77 million in the quarter from $65.2 million a year ago. Concession revenue per patron up 5.4 per cent to $4.50.

Media revenues, however, were down 29 per cent compared to the same period in 2011. The company cited reduced advertising spending from the government and telecommunications sectors.

Cineplex, which operates under the Cineplex Odeon, Galaxy, Famous Players, Colossus, Coliseum, SilverCity, Cinema City and Scotiabank Theatres banners, owns, leases or has a joint-venture interest in 130 theatres with 1,359 screens from British Columbia to Quebec.

On the Toronto Stock Exchange, Cineplex shares gained 33 cents, or 1.08 per cent, to close at $30.78.

The Canadian Press

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