A 'Hunger Games' Theme Park? The Odds Don't Favor Katniss

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If you want to join Katniss Everdeen, Peeta Mellark and your other favorite "Hunger Games" characters in their dystopian teen-slay-teen world, you may get that opportunity. Lions Gate Films (LGF) announced last week that it's exploring the possibility of a theme park devoted to the movie series.

It sounds cool. It sounds ridiculous. It's a goldmine. It's a land mine.

Opinions have been all over the map, but let's not get ahead of ourselves. Lions Gate Films has its reasons for dreaming big with the wildly popular book trilogy, which will eventually reach four full-length feature films. Its heart is in the right place, but unlike Katniss with a crossbow, Lion Gate's aim may be questionable.

Can't-Miss Everdeen

"The Hunger Games: The Exhibition" will begin traveling through museums and other exhibit halls across the country by summer of next year with props, costumes and other themed elements. CEO Jon Feltheimer told investors on Friday that this is just "a first step" as it explores more ambitious opportunities including theme parks, theme park attractions and location-based entertainment venues.

Feltheimer told analysts in November that at least two international parties had approached the studio about theme park opportunities. "It gives you a sense of the cultural impact of this franchise," he said at the time. "We are excited about those opportunities and are pursuing them."

Once upon a time, Time Warner (TWX) created a traveling museum exhibit based on J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter franchise, touring the U.S. with props and costumes. Time Warner also teamed up with Thinkwell, the same company that Lions Gate is turning to, to create the stationary "Warner Bros. Studio Tour London: The Making of Harry Potter" experience in England.

Comcast's (CMCSK) Universal Studios eventually contracted with Time Warner and Rowling to create "The Wizarding World of Harry Potter" at its Islands of Adventure theme park, resulting in a huge spike in attendance that has been sustained over the past four years. This would seem to support the idea that a "Hunger Games" attraction could be a financial winner, but even for Harry Potter, the choice was made to create a themed area within an existing theme park rather than attempt to build an entire gated attraction from scratch. More importantly, can the violent "The Hunger Games" franchise find a niche within the family-oriented world of theme parks?

There's plenty of violence in the Potter books and films, but their battle of good against evil takes place against a fantasy (and fantastically appealing) backdrop. Contrast that to the dark, dystopic future of "The Hunger Games," with its teenage combatants sent to do battle in an unvarnished fight to the death of almost everyone. Even the series' victories are morally ambiguous.

No question, the series has vast appeal. The first two films raked in more than $800 million in ticket sales in the U.S. alone. However, that's not necessarily enough to carry a theme park that will open its gates for the first time long after the last of the four films hits theaters in 11 months.

The touring exhibit will almost certainly fare well, timed to come out just as "Mockingjay: Part 2" completes its run at a multiplex near you. The chances of a dedicated theme park -- at least a well-financed one in this country -- following the exhibit will decline as interest wanes. It will be hard to justify that kind of investment for a property that will have already run its course.

Motley Fool contributor Rick Munarriz has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends Lions Gate Entertainment.


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