Minion Mayhem leads to attendance jump for Universal Studios Hollywood

Universal Studios Hollywood's attendance jump came with the launch of Minion Mayhem attraction

Thanks partly to the opening of Minion Mayhem, a new attraction based on the popular "Despicable Me" movies, Universal Studios Hollywood's attendance jumped an estimated 11% last year, the biggest increase among all Southern California theme parks.

Overall theme park attendance in North America increased a modest 2.2%, according to an annual estimate by the Themed Entertainment Assn., a trade group for attraction designers and builders, and the engineering firm Aecom.

The report attributed the visitor increases at some parks to the addition of attractions closely tied to popular movies and intellectual properties.

"We see that the sooner you can get IP to move from screen to a physical environment, the sooner you reap the rewards and the larger those rewards may be," according to the report, which also attributed the attendance rise to a strengthening U.S. economy.

One noted exception was SeaWorld Entertainment Inc., whose marine-themed parks in San Diego and Orlando suffered attendance drops of 12% and 8%, respectively, according to the report. SeaWorld Entertainment reported an average attendance drop of 4% in all 11 of its parks. 

SeaWorld has endured harsh criticism from animal rights groups since the opening in 2013 of the documentary "Blackfish," which accuses the marine-themed parks of abusing and neglecting orcas.

Meanwhile, Southern California's most popular theme park, Disneyland, had a 3.5% increase in visitors, while attendance grew by 3% at its neighboring Anaheim park, California Adventure, according to the estimate.

Attendance remained flat for Knott's Berry Farm in Buena Park last year and dropped by 2% at Six Flags Magic Mountain in Valencia, the report said.

Most theme parks do not report attendance at individual parks, but park insiders say the Aecom estimates are remarkably accurate.

Universal Studios Hollywood may have reported the biggest hike in attendance partly because it opened in April 2014 the Minion Mayhem ride, based on the characters of the two "Despicable Me" movies, which have grossed about $1.5 billion.

The park's Halloween Horror Nights, which ran for 22 nights leading up to Halloween, drew huge crowds last year, partly to see a new haunted maze that featured creatures and characters from the hit horror flick "An American Werewolf in London."

Larry Kurzweil, president and chief operating officer of Universal Studios Hollywood, also attributed the record attendance level last year to the opening of a new 3-D simulator ride, based on the "Transformers" movies.

He predicted that the park will continue to break attendance records with the opening next year of a new attraction and shops based on the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.

"Universal Studios Hollywood expects to continue to set record high attendance that will have a lasting impact on Los Angeles and California tourism for years to come," he said.

To read more about travel, tourism and the airline industry, follow me on Twitter at @hugomartin.

Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times


2:19 p.m.: This story was updated to include a comment from Larry Kurzweil, president of Universal Studios Hollywood.