'Reel' Story: Tourism Theme Parks Get Inspired By Hit Films

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There are more than 400 amusement parks and traditional attractions in the United States alone. (Photo: Pam Roth)
There are more than 400 amusement parks and traditional attractions in the United States alone. (Photo: Pam Roth)

BUSINESS

  • Wizarding World of Harry Potter sees tourist success at Universal in Orlando
  • Walt Disney looking to open Avatar theme park in 2013
  • Chinese theme park based on martial arts expected to feature film favorites such as Bruce Lee

Theme park followers can look forward to next month when details of new additions may be revealed as Universal Studios Hollywood film studio marks its 100th birthday. Company executives say the yearlong campaign will include news of “theme park activities,” according to the Orlando Sentinel.

Past theme park watchers certainly know of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, which opened in Orlando, Florida, this year to create what some call “frenzied excitement among muggles worldwide.”

The park was so successful - drawing 7 million visitors in its first year of operation - that Universal Studios executives have announced a second attraction in Los Angeles. “Universal is hoping to repeat the success of the Orlando theme park at its Hollywood location, reconstructing Hogwarts Castle and Hogsmeade as well as many of the rollercoasters and other rides,” wrote the UK’s Daily Mail.

The official announcement about the new park was toasted by officials with “Butterbeer,” the iconic drink served in the Harry Potter book's Hogsmeade Three Broomsticks pub, the newspaper said. But it also warned “muggles” eager for some Harry magic in Hollywood that they will have to wait up to four years to toast the new park.

Highlights of the Orlando park include its “Dragon’s Challenge” rollercoaster and a life-size model of the Hogwarts Express train. By all accounts, the Wizarding World park in Orlando has been a huge success with fans and even casual readers or movie-goers. Attendance at the park’s location, Islands of Adventure, soared almost one third last year compared to the previous one.

“But it's not just the USA capitalizing on its film links. There will soon be a Harry Potter attraction opening near London at the studios where many of the films were made,” reported the Daily Mail.

A question remains whether the new attractions will also feature some of the Orlando attractions. Park officials did not reveal specifics but did say new Wizard parks will have the same commitment to authenticity that the books and movies had in Florida.

“Everyone involved with these projects is committed to continuing the enchantment of J.K. Rowling's masterful books as they were brought to life on screen in our eight films and dedicated to extending the magic of the experience for generations of fans to come,” says Warner Bros. chairman Barry Meyer.

Potter Films Largest-Grossing Franchise in History

Author J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter book series sold some 450 million copies worldwide. It also led to eight movies from the Warner Bros. studios, which took in more than $7.7 billion in global revenue, making the films the largest-grossing franchise in history.

Universal is hardly the only theme park operator looking to books and movies as themes for new parks. Walt Disney earlier this year announced a new theme park based on the 2009 film “Avatar.” That was the highest-grossing single movie in history.

Work on the Avatar park is scheduled to begin in 2013. The new park will be located at Disney World in Orlando. There are also plans for other locations, according to Disney officials.

And theme park news keeps on coming: a Los Angeles-based entertainment group and a domestic investment firm recently announced they would jointly establish a $100 million martial arts park in Hubei Province that would presumably include such movie figures as the late Bruce Lee.

The Ikonic Entertainment Group and Hubei Wudang Taichi Lake Investment Group say the new park will be located at Wudang Mountain, a region known as the center of Chinese martial arts, according to The Wall Street Journal.

Water shows will be held beside the park. Stuntmen and directors from Hollywood will also be invited to participate in performances to give the venue a more international flavor, the Xinhua News Agency reported.

"Immediately after the agreement was reached, both companies started construction work on the venue, which will be completed in two years," a staff member with the publicity department of Wudang Mountain Tourism and Economic Zone, told the Global Times.

Key Statistics – Global Amusement & Theme Park Market (source: International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions)

  • There are more than 400 amusement parks and traditional attractions in the United States alone.
  • Four of the world’s top-ten most visited amusement parks are in Asia.
  • In 2008, amusement parks in the United States entertained 300 million visitors who safely enjoyed more than 1.7 billion rides.

By David Wilkening for
David Wilkening is a former newspaperman who worked in Chicago, Detroit and Orlando. He now specializes in travel and real-estate business writing.

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