The movie, which stars Seth Rogen and Elizabeth Banks as roommates who decide to make a sex film to pay off debts, received an R rating after director Kevin Smith successfully appealed an NC-17.
But Megaplex general manager Cal Gunderson told The New York Post, "we feel it's very close to an NC-17 with its graphic nudity and graphic sex."
The Megaplex circuit - operating 70 screens at five theaters in Salt Lake City, Ogden, Lehi, Sandy and South Jordan - is the only chain that has turned down the movie. "They're kind of a lone wolf on this one," said Steve Bunnell, chairman of domestic distribution for The Weinstein Co.
Advance response from exhibitors and audiences has been positive, Bunnell said. "People are really responding to the romantic-comedy part of the film," he said, comparing "Zack and Miri" to such hits as "Knocked Up" and "The 40-Year-Old Virgin," films that have played at Megaplex theaters.
"Zack and Miri" will play in about 2,800 theaters nationwide, Bunnell said. In Utah, the movie will screen at theaters owned by the Cinemark and Carmike chains, and at the not-for-profit Broadway Centre Cinemas in downtown Salt Lake City.
"It's definitely a crossover title, something normally that would not be on our radar if it wasn't for Kevin Smith," said Tori Baker, director of the Salt Lake Film Society, which operates the Broadway. Baker cited director Smith's history as an independent filmmaker, going back to his 1995 debut "Clerks" premiering at the Sundance Film Festival.
"Zack and Miri" features images of full-frontal nudity, male and female, but never together and never in a sexual act. Similar content can be found in movies that have played at Megaplex theaters. In April, the chain booked the comedy "Forgetting Sarah Marshall," which showed star Jason Segel completely naked. Earlier this month, the chain opened another comedy, "Sex Drive," filled with sexual dialogue and bare skin.
The ban on "Zack and Miri" also comes a week after the horror movie "Saw V" opened nationwide, including at four Megaplex theaters. Among the grisly images in "Saw V" are a woman decapitated by blades in a collar and a man forced to crush his hands to escape being cut in half by a pendulum.
When asked by The New York Post about the apparent double standard of screening the violence of "Saw V" but not the sexuality of "Zack and Miri," Gunderson replied, "No comment." (By deadline, Gunderson had not responded to calls from The Salt Lake Tribune seeking comment.)
The uproar over "Zack and Miri" is reminiscent of Megaplex owner Larry H. Miller's decision in January 2006 to pull "Brokeback Mountain," the Western drama starring Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal as gay sheep herders.
The weekend "Brokeback Mountain" was set to open, the horror film "Hostel" opened at the Megaplex theaters. In May 2006, Miller acknowledged, "That one never should have gotten past us - that's ridiculous." However, in the summer of 2007, "Hostel Part 2" played at the Megaplex theaters.
Because of its content, "Zack and Miri" has had a bumpy road to theaters. The Motion Picture Association of America, which rates movies and regulates advertising content, rejected the original poster because it gently suggested the main characters were engaged in oral sex. (The replacement poster has stick figures under the words "Seth Rogen and Elizabeth Banks made a movie so titillating we can only show you this drawing.") Some newspapers have rejected ads for the film that use the word "porno," while TV spots that aired during NFL games omitted the P-word.