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Imax sees big picture from India expansion

Company to add 10 sites; first will be in New Delhi

Flush from strong numbers for its four theaters in India, Imax Corp. said Friday that it will open 10 more cinemas there by 2008 in an expansion that could see Bollywood pics converted into the giant-screen format.

Imax co-chair-co-CEO Robert Gelfond, announcing the news at a press conference in Hyderabad, India, said the first new theater is tentatively skedded to open next year in New Delhi, to be followed by sites in Calcutta, Bombay, Pune, Surat, Kanpur, Lucknow, Nagpur, Patna and Indore.

Company has more than 235 Imax-affiliated theaters in 35 countries.

The Prasadas Imax Theater in Hyderabad, which opened in 2003, has seen particularly strong traffic, attracting more than 550,000 people during its first year of business and positing the highest ticket sales for “Spider-Man 2: The Imax Experience” of any location in Imax’s worldwide network.

India’s first Imax theater opened in Mumbai in March 2001, followed in 2002 by a location in Ahmedabad. Like the venue in Prasadas, both have recorded impressive attendance, according to Imax.

In late October, the Toronto-based large-format movie theater company posted earnings of $1.8 million for the third quarter ended Sept. 30; a turnaround from $2.7 million in red ink shed a year ago. Revenue was $31.8 million, up 50% over a year earlier.

Imax inked agreements for the sale or lease of 15 new Imax theater systems, making for the best quarter in seven years.

Imax toppers credit the interest in its large-screen system to its strategy of releasing digitally remastered Hollywood films in the format using its proprietary technology, Imax DMR.

Company exhibited two digitally remastered Hollywood blockbusters during the quarter, Warner Bros.’ “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban” and Columbia Pictures’ “Spider-Man.”

Company will co-produce with Warner Bros. its second original Imax 3-D film, “Denizens of the Deep,” to be released in 2006.

Imax’s first Hollywood 3-D animated feature, “The Polar Express: An Imax 3D Experience,” has seen strong ticket sales since the pic bowed nationwide last month, including on 61 Imax screens.

In the first 19 days, Imax theaters grossed $10.3 million — a healthy 12% of the movie’s total gross.

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