Movie Theater Plays Wrong Guardians Movie Three Times In a Row

Fans eager to see Guardians of the Galaxy got a disappointing surprise at a Regal Cinemas this week. The debut-seeking crowd watched in horror as the screen before them played the open scene not of the badass comic-based movie, but of 2012's Dreamworks kids flick, Rise of the Guardians. Not the same!

According to irate tweeters, the mixup at the Virginia theater didn't just happen once: after management figured out the mistake, audiences sat through a second round of previews, followed by the wrong Guardians flick, followed by a third mixed-up movie. Yeesh.

For those unfamiliar with the difference between the two (a group which apparently includes the projectionists employed by at least one Regal Cinema), Guardians of the Galaxy is a hilarious, action-packed flick that debuted on August 1st. Rise of the Guardians is a PG-rated kids' animated movie from 2012. It earned a 74% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes! But it's not the debut movie that theater-goers were looking for, though they were subjected to it three times in a row.

Hollywood Reporter says that Virginia wasn't the only place where theaters made the mix-up—tweeters in New Jersey also reported unintended screenings of Rise. CinemaBlend theorizes that the theaters where the mix-ups occurred had labeled the 2012 movie simply as Guardians, and played it at kiddie matinees, leading projectionists to mistakenly cue up the animated flick for opening night crowds.

Of course, the cinemas that subjected ticket-buyers to the wrong movie offered seats at later screenings or replacement tickets to different showings. And Regal Cinemas tweeted a cheeky yet sincere apology to one theater-goer:

Here's hoping if you go see Guardians of the Galaxy tonight, you end up seeing Guardians, not a kiddie movie from 2012. Seriously, it's worth it—so long as the projectionist picks the right flick. [ABC News, Kotaku]

Update: commenter spacejockey explains just how this mishap might have happened:

I run a multiplex theater. I saw this coming when "mapping" this title (the process of telling the computer that plays the movies which file to play when it is told by the ticketing computer to play "Guardians of the Galaxy"). We also had the file for "Rise of the Guardians" still in the system. It could easily be mistakenly mapped by someone who is hurried or careless because the labels on the file were so similar. I even thought to myself at that time, "someone is totally going to screw this up."

On the other hand, the trailers can be easily skipped by anyone with a finger and 30 seconds of training. Playing them repeatedly is just torture for the people in the auditorium. In fact, after this mistake was made, there was really no hope for saving the show anyway. Because the wrong title was mapped, the wrong file was transferred from the main film vault server to the local content player at the projector. Fixing the error and transferring the correct file would have taken at least a good 45 minutes. Sounds like a nightmare. I feel bad for the kid that did it though. He will check twice next time.

Update 2: Commenter jedibugs, a former Regal Cinemas projectionist and now manager, has an even more detailed guess as to what happened. Here's an excerpt:

Someone wasn't paying enough attention when putting together the playlist, which is actually 3 playlists. There's a Trailer Pack List and a Feature list (it's several things because it contains some added on files for black screen and the Blue Ratings band at the end). These are compiled in one master playlist (called an SPL) that consists of the trailer pack, the feature pack and all the proper cues.

When Building the feature pack, someone chose the wrong Guardians because they weren't paying enough attention... all the files are very long and contain more than enough info to recognize them — because there are so many files, a search has to be done. Someone just did a search for "Guardians" and dragged the first thing they saw in the results to the playlist, I think.

So, then the whole thing gets allocated to the Auditorium (there is a separate playlist built for each auditorium, usually with slightly different trailers, which may be why this didn't happen for multiple screenings). Allocation sets that playlist into the schedule and downloads all the content in the playlist from the Central Library to the individual projector. It is likely the allocation process that caused the repeated errors.

Likely, when they discovered the error, they went and swapped out the guardians file from the playlist with the correct one. Yes, the correct one. But, as we've already established that this particular theater doesn't know their digital system very well, they clearly forgot to reallocate the file, so the projector essentially didn't refresh the playlist in it's system. So they stopped it again and then, assuming they had played the wrong show file (because at this point, they're freaking out and not thinking clearly in their panic to get the right movie on-screen), they started the same file again, because it was already the right file... And then when it happens a third time, someone finally got on the phone with their district booth tech who told them to allocate.