Imax makes screen play

Exhib has big plans for AMC

Calling it the most important deal in the company’s history, large format exhib Imax Corp. will install 100 Imax digital screens in AMC theaters in 33 top U.S. markets over the next three years.

Move will double the number of commercial Imax screens nationwide.

Pact between Imax and AMC Entertainment was announced late Thursday afternoon. Additional screens will be a major boost for the advancement of modern-day 3-D, since the digital Imax screens will be capable of exhibiting 3-D movies, in addition to 2-D titles.

New Imax digital projection systems will be installed in many of AMC’s top-performing theaters, including the Empire in New York City and 12 locations in the Los Angeles area, including Century City.

With its higher ticket prices, Imax said the doubling of screens will increase revenues for both Hollywood studios and exhibitors. The transition to digital also eliminates the need for costly film prints.

“By far, this is our largest partnership to date,” Imax co-chair/co-CEO Bradley J. Wechsler said. “People love Imax, and they are willing to pay more to see a movie on an Imax screen. We haven’t been able to meet the demand. This deal will begin to change that.”

Rollout of the first 50 screens will begin in July 2008. An additional 25 will be installed in 2009 and the remaining 25 in 2010.

AMC Entertainment chair-CEO Peter Brown said the partnership with Imax reflects AMC’s desire to create an “entertainment superstore” that offers a variety of types of entertainment.

From standpoint of a studio or exhib, showing a movie on Imax provides another revenue point. Imax tickets are substantially higher than a regular ticket.

In 2008, Imax has lined up a number of studio title for its slate, including Paramount’s “The Spiderwick Chronicles,” DWA’s “Kung Fu Panda” and Warner Bros.’ “The Dark Knight,” among others.

Last month, Imax inked a deal to release the first trio of 3-D titles from DreamWorks Animation, beginning with “Monsters vs. Aliens” in March 2009, followed by “How to Train Your Dragon” in November 2009 and ‘Shrek Goes Fourth” in May 2010.

Beginning with “Monsters,” DWA will make all of its movies in 3-D, although a 2-D version will be available as well for smaller markets without 3-D screens.

DWA’s Jeffrey Katzenberg hailed the Imax news as a fantastic development for 3-D. “We’re making the movies, so it’s critical that we have the screens,” he told Daily Variety.

Other studios also are investing in big-budget 3-D projects, including 20th Century Fox, where James Cameron is making 3-D live-action/CGI tentpole “Avatar,” set for release not long after “Monsters” on May 21, 2009.

With such two high-profile releases in the wings, the race is on to convince exhibs to install more 3-D screens.

When it comes to conventional theater screens, Real D is the largest provider of digital 3-D screens.

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