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`Warrior' is back, with free tickets

Universal is launching a `national release' of last year's film in a bid to build buzz.

March 14, 2007|John Horn | Times Staff Writer

For everyone who complains movie tickets are getting way too expensive, Universal Pictures has an answer: $15 million in free tickets for an upcoming movie. There's one small catch -- the freebies are for a film that came out last year.

In an unusual effort to drum up an audience for "Peaceful Warrior," Universal will return the film to theaters March 30, supported by a national ticket giveaway. The thinking is that if enough people see the film for free, they will recommend it to others, and help build a large following for the adaptation of Dan Millman's bestselling book "Way of the Peaceful Warrior."

"A lot of fans of the book have no idea that the movie ever came out," Adam Fogelson, Universal's marketing president, said Tuesday. "So we are not describing it as a re-release. We are calling it the first national release of the movie."

The idea is a new iteration of a Hollywood word-of-mouth movie promotion. Instead of relying exclusively on print, radio, television and outdoor advertising, these campaigns let the movies -- rather than their marketing materials -- do the talking.

Audiences are invited to free screenings, and (theoretically) leave the theater recommending the movie to friends, family and colleagues. Such an effort was critical in the commercial success of last summer's "Little Miss Sunshine."

Even though "Peaceful Warrior" did not attract raves from most film critics, Fogelson said that research screenings and exit polls suggested that audiences loved the film. But it never went beyond the small art-house world; playing in fewer than 50 locations, "Peaceful Warrior" grossed just $1 million when Lionsgate debuted the film last June.

"We were never able to come up with a trailer that worked," said Mark Amin, the film's producer.

The twist with the new "Peaceful Warrior" campaign is that moviegoers need to go to a Best Buy or the electronic store's website between Sunday and April 1 to procure as many as 10 free tickets. Unlike the Lionsgate release, Universal plans to bring "Peaceful Warrior" to between 500 and 1,000 theaters across the country. "Movie tickets continue to have real value to people," Fogelson said.

If the giveaway works, Amin said, Universal will start buying more traditional advertising.

Fogelson said the ticket giveaway, which was supported by Lionsgate and the film's producers, could be a test case applied to future films that require special handling. Had such an initiative been in place when 1994's "The Shawshank Redemption" opened, Fogelson said, that movie might have done much better than it ultimately did.

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john.horn@latimes.com

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