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.