Can "It" Save the Multiplex?

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It's been a summer to forget for the movie-theater industry, but hope springs eternal that a killer clown preying on the deepest fears of bullied kids can save the day. Time Warner's (NYSE: TWX) New Line Cinema is pushing It into multiplexes over the weekend, and the film based on Stephen King's novel and subsequent miniseries is generating plenty of buzz. 

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It rang up $13.5 million in ticket sales during Thursday night's debut, and industry tracker Box Office Mojo is forecasting more than $80 million in ticket sales during its opening weekend. Time Warner's horror flick is a lock to surpass the $67 million in box-office receipts generated by all 12 of the highest-grossing films during the extended Labor Day holiday weekend.

We could be going from the worst Labor Day holiday for multiplex operators since 2000 to one of the industry's strongest September weekends, giving AMC Entertainment (NYSE: AMC)Regal Entertainment (NYSE: RGC), and smaller exhibitors a good reason to celebrate. Time Warner and theater owners may finally be ready to party, but please, no red balloons.

Pennywise pounds the foolish

There was a lot of hype heading into this weekend. The film's first trailer generated 197 million views worldwide within the first day of its release. 

Time Warner is shaping up to have a pretty good year. The studio already has this year's second-biggest winner in Wonder Woman. By the time It wraps up its run, Time Warner will have four of this year's 10 largest domestic-grossing films -- something that hasn't happened for the studio since 2009.

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Movie theaters are the ones that will ultimately be cheering on Pennywise as he terrorizes the young residents of Derry. Domestic ticket sales have posted year-over-year declines for four consecutive months, and two weeks ago, theater owners had their worst weekend in more than 15 years.  

The stocks of the leading multiplex operators have taken a beating. AMC Entertainment and Regal have taken hits of 43% and 28%, respectively, this summer alone. Analysts see AMC posting another huge deficit this year, with Regal posting a smaller profit than it did a year earlier.

One movie may not be enough, but It is off to a great start. A hearty 88% of the film critics tracked by Rotten Tomatoes are recommending the film, and the audience score is even higher. The film hits all of the right buttons, combining engaging characters and relentless jump scares to deliver a late summer blockbuster. It's also hitting the right button for a multiplex industry that's not beyond clowning around if it fills up screenings.

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Rick Munarriz has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends Time Warner. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.