Hold on. The stock is up less than 8% over the past year, and you're going to tell me that Regal Entertainment (NYSE:RGC) -- the nation's leading movie theater chain -- has been a stellar performer?


If you haven't been watching, Regal's stock chart is a bit misleading. Notably, there's that one-day $4.48 per share drop back in July. But there's a reason for that: a hefty, one-time $5.05 per share dividend. Tack that on to Regal's regular quarterly dividend of $0.15, add in the stock's appreciation, and Regal has returned almost 38% over the past year.

This is an extreme case, but the lesson is clear: Next time you compare stocks, don't forget to account for dividends. (For more on investing in companies that pay dividends, be sure to check out Mathew Emmert's Motley Fool Income Investor).

Regal's business has performed as well. Fourth-quarter revenue climbed 25% to $683.8 million, with sales of overpriced concessions accounting for over a quarter of those revenues. Meanwhile, EPS jumped an even more impressive 74% to $0.40 per share. That's a lot of popcorn and Milk Duds.

Regal also benefited from the box-office success of mega-hits like Time Warner's (NYSE:TWX) Lordof the Rings, Matrix, and The Last Samurai, as well as Fox's (NYSE:FOX) Master and Commander, among others. (To be fair, results were boosted by an extra week in the fourth quarter, which happened to be the peak week between Christmas and New Year's Day.)

Perhaps most impressively, Regal, which operates 6,045 screens at 550 locations in 39 states, continues to generate gobs of cash. With that cash, Regal hiked its quarterly dividend 20% to $0.18 per share.

If there's one curiosity, it's that Regal didn't opt to pay down debt or to buy back shares, rather than hand over that $5.05 per share in cash. Even so, there's little to contradict the notion that this movie king is in great shape.

Got a thing for movies? Head over to the Great Movies discussion board.

J eff Hwang owns no shares in any of the companies mentioned, but can be reached here.