Imax spent five years and millions of dollars developing technology to convert 35-millimeter films into Imax format, quickly and inexpensively. Now it’s ready to hit the multiplex.
Aiming to release Imax-format blockbusters on the same day they hit the box office in 35mm, the company targeted one film in 2002, and four to six simultaneous releases annually thereafter.
In launching this new effort, Imax is betting that audience demand will induce theater owners to build Imax screens at a cost ranging from $3 million (in a multiplex) to $6 million (for a stand-alone theater). Because most of its revenue derives from leasing technology and equipment to theaters, it is these new screens that will boost Imax’s top line.
“Imax’s goal is to have people want to see those big movies in Imax, and be willing to pay the $3 to $5 more for it,” says Rich Gelfond, Imax co-chairman and co-CEO. And, he says, the company can afford to take that chance: It is in stable financial shape, and meanwhile is rapidly growing its customer base of 240 theaters worldwide. The success of simultaneous releases could set the company on a steeper growth curve.
There is some precedent: The Imax version of Star Wars: Episode II opened last September at No. 14 in North America, grossing $25,000 per screen. But that precedent is limited. We know die-hard Star Wars fans will line up for eight stories of thundering stereo-sound space action, but the question for Imax is, will everyone else?