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Cinemas are still competing with people’s living rooms.Aaron Vincent Elkaim/The Canadian Press

Canadian actor and Marvel star Simu Liu is in Cineplex Inc.’s good books – not just because of this summer’s box-office numbers for Shang-Chi and The Legend of the Ten Rings, but also for Mr. Liu’s star turn in a Cineplex lobby, blissfully embracing a bag of popcorn.

The clutch performance occurred in a video for Cineplex in August. The message, welcoming audiences back to theatres, ran on Cineplex screens before movies and found online traction when Mr. Liu shared it on social media. Now, Canada’s largest movie theatre chain is planning to extend the campaign, in order to encourage more people to return to the cinema.

The Toronto-based company will be releasing a video starring Ghostbusters: Afterlife director Jason Reitman this month, coinciding with the movie’s release. And original Ghostbuster Dan Aykroyd has done four videos for Cineplex, which will run in December and January.

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“We’ve had a lot of the stars help us in giving that message,” Cineplex chief executive officer Ellis Jacob said in an interview. That extends beyond Cineplex: There is an industry-wide effort to lure viewers away from their couches.

Last year, Gal Gadot took to social media to encourage fans to see Wonder Woman 1984 in a theatre. And recently, AMC Theatres released a video with Nicole Kidman extolling the “indescribable feeling” of going to the movies. Top directors including Christopher Nolan and Denis Villeneuve have been vocal about the drawbacks of watching their films on small screens.

“Driving people back to enjoy the theatrical experience, that’s really what we’re trying to do,” Mr. Jacob said.

On Thursday, Cineplex reported that 8.3 million people went to the movies at its theatres in the third quarter – a marked improvement from the depth of the COVID-19 doldrums during the same period last year, when attendance was just 1.6 million. Pandemic health restrictions have eased in some regions, and all of Cineplex’s theatres across Canada have been open since July 17. During the summer months, movies such as Shang-Chi and Free Guy performed well.

It is still early days for movie theatres’ recovery. Audience numbers for the three months ended Sept. 30 were still less than half of what Cineplex reported in the same quarter in 2019, before the pandemic.

Cineplex reported a net loss of $33.6-million, or 53 cents a share, in the third quarter, compared with a net loss of $121.2-million, or $1.91 a share, in the prior year.

More recently, other blockbusters have performed well, including Mr. Villeneuve’s Dune and the latest James Bond instalment, No Time to Die.

Cinemas are still competing with people’s living rooms, however. This week, No Time to Die became available for at-home rental on platforms that include the Cineplex Store and Amazon Prime, just one month after its theatrical premiere. The pandemic has led to more discussions between studios and theatres about how long the exclusive theatrical window should be.

“It really varies by studio and by movie,” Mr. Jacob said. “We continue to have discussions with them.”

On Wednesday, Walt Disney Co. chief executive officer Bob Chapek acknowledged the role theatres have played in building the studio’s biggest franchises, saying their recovery is good for the industry.

“At the same time, we’re watching very, very carefully different types of movies to see how the different components of the demographics of that market come back,” Mr. Chapek said on a call to discuss the company’s earnings. Family films will have a shorter theatrical window than they have in the past, he added, and will move to the studio’s Disney+ streaming service more quickly.

Theatres are attempting to counter those shifting customer behaviours by offering upgrades on the moviegoing experience. Cineplex’s box office revenue per person rose by 22 per cent in the third quarter, driven by audiences paying extra for tickets to Imax, VIP seatings and UltraAVX auditoriums that boast bigger screens and cushy seats.

Cineplex’s third-quarter revenue rose to $250.4-million, compared with $61-million last year.

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