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Film Loses More Ground As Imax Switches Flagship Theaters to Digital

Gravity Will Make $1 Million on Just One NYC Screen

If you're a fan of the 15-perf/70mm film-based format exhibited on giant IMAX theater screens, you'd best enjoy it while you can. Imax told investors that the digital transition is continuing at its big-screen theaters, with AMC's massive Lincoln Square location in New York City and its San Franciso Metreon theater among the most recent to convert. That leaves about 170 film-based theaters in the Imax network worldwide — about 20 of those are commercial theaters that concentrate on mainstream multiplex-style film offerings, while about 150 of them are associated with institutions.

In a conference call with analysts this morning, Imax CEO Richard Gelfond said taking those AMC theaters digital was a critical part of the chain's recent success with Gravity, which was not provided to Imax theaters on film. "In the U.S., Gravity has generated almost $1 million at Lincoln Square and another $1 million between the TCL Chinese Theatre [in Hollywood] and the Metreon," Gelfond said. "The success of Gravity also shows there is a place for 3D with the right movie."

In fact, Gelfond continued, Imax generated more than 22 percent of Gravity's domestic box-office gross despite acounting for fewer than 4% of the screens showing the film. "It's not our typically fanboy-focused film," he said. Imax theaters accounted for more than 20 percent of Pacific Rim's domestic box office, and about 15 percent of Elysium's domestic take, the company said.

The conversion of Imax theaters with screens larger than 80 feet wide is a transitional step. Those houses are being equipped with digital projectors powered by 15 kW Xenon lamps in order to keep them viable until Imax begins rolling out laser projection in its largest theaters before the end of 2014. That's a noteworthy cost savings for Imax , which typically spends between $30,000 to $50,000 per movie per theater when it makes film prints. "In the past, we had to subsidize film prints for titles that were not necessarily expected to be big blockbusters in order to have product for these large, film-based theaters," Gelfond said. "Now, we can be more selective."

When the laser projection systems become available, Imax screens could get even bigger. Gelfond said the first generation of laser projectors will be able to throw a 90-foot image.

Imax reported total global box-office of $132.5 million in the third quarter, down a sobering 23 percent from the same period last year. Gelfond downplayed the importance of looking at quarter-by-quarter figures, noting that Gravity had gotten the company off to a strong fourth-quarter start. He said the company is looking forward to the release of The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, which he said would feature an expanded aspect ratio at Imax screenings, and The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, which was partially shot with Imax cameras. It will be interesting to see how many of Imax's digitally enabled theaters dust off their film equipment to show the Hunger Games sequel in the 15/70 Imax format.

9 Comments

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  • Sethcohen26

    Does that mean the size or quality will be smaller

    • amiableCDN

      Yes.
      The 15/70 images for Hollywood releases already only used a portion of the full 15/70 screen (usually about 75% of the screen.
      The Digital projectors can not so they fill about 50% of the screen.
      Unless you sit farther back you will start to see the pixels on the screen.If you end up towards the sides you have much less than normally considered acceptable site lines to the screen.
      The available brightness particularly for 3D is MUCH less for the Digital compared to the 15/70 releases.

      It IS much less … but, it is simply the same as you would get at the Multiplex IMAX down the street and this is the high end of picture quality available at Multiplexes.

      • Andrew Bassett

        Actually, standard 35mm film that everyone has seen in the theater for decades is about the equivalent of 4K. The imax (I refuse to use capital letters) 2K digital system is about the same as 16mm film, or a standard Blu-ray disc.

        In other words, Digital imax is actually a significant DOWNGRADE from the plain ol’ movie theater.

        • amiableCDN

          Not entirely true but your intent is. Imax’s digital offerings use TWO projectors and an undisclosed technique for increasing effective screen resolution.

          A simple one used for years is simply to display alternting lines on the screen using each projector and effectively doubling the resolution. Do they do that? Who knows – they won’t say. Under Gelfond’s extremely damaging leadership TOTALLY different products pf TOTALLY different qualities and “experience” are all marketed under the “IMAX Experience” tagline.

          Their LONG OVERDUE Laser system MIGHT reclaim the high ground.

          As for sound systems they WERE best in the world and are now generations behind (see Altos for eg)

          They are talking (and talking and talking) about a new sound system but have disclosed squat.. it is likely a repackaging of the Barco system.

          • amiableCDN

            We KNOW they are not developing a world class sound system of their own because the R&D spending reported in their financial filings is nowhere near what would be required and their management reporting on the filings indicate what R&D spending does exist is primarily towards the overdue Laser system.

            GELFOND HAS TO GO

            He is turning IMAX into nothing but an aging brand name (and he consistently brags that BRAND is all that matters)

            BRAND means NOTHING if there is not the product that delivers to the brand promises

  • Goodbye Imax

    It’s been a downward spiral since Mssrs. Gelfond and Wexler oversaw the purchase of the company years ago. Enriched themselves at the expense of museums, science centers that supported the format through its first decades.

  • amiableCDN

    Careful … Many destinaton venues are going “Hybrid” where they have BOTH 15/70 and Digital (you can also catch this when hear about “rail” systems that are used to move between projectors). Metreon, ex-Grauman’s, Melbourne, Sydney, etc. etc have all gone Hybrid. No doubt 15/70 will decline but it WILL be supported at least until Laser is available to support it.

    Only way to tell at your theater is to ask, not only whether they have gone Hybrid but for any given release (when they are Hybrid) whether it is being shown in 15/70 or Digital.

  • Carlos Gomez

    Hey, I stop going to those fake IMAX…since they converted to fake-MAX, now I won’t even have choice! Good buy IMAX!! I called and asked for if it’s print or digital, but it’s all digital in all of AMC near my town…

  • Rishi Sanyal

    These ‘intermediate’ digital projectors that some 15/70-capable theaters are getting before fully transitioning to laser projection – are they 2K projectors? Or is IMAX at least outfitting them with 4K DLP projection for the time being (which even the Seattle Cinerama, for example, has)? 4K digital laser projection might finally compete with 15/70 film, but I sincerely hope IMAX is not replacing 15/70 film with 2K digital projection as an ‘intermediate’ solution…