Imax reaps $546 million in earnings

Blockbusters boost box office take

With “Avatar” still in the mix and a clutch of other top-notch performers, 2010 ended up being a boffo year for large-screen exhib Imax. The company reported global box office revenues at $546 million, more than doubling its 2009 gross.

Imax spent the past year bolstering its global screen count, most notably, in overseas territories in Asia and Europe. As of Friday, the company’s global location count was at 518, up from 430 at the same point in 2009.

The company reported that 39% of its worldwide B.O. in 2010 was earned overseas vs. approximately 26% in 2009. Imax also was up slightly during the fourth quarter with $102 million, approximately $1 million more than the same period in 2009 when “Avatar” began its record-setting B.O. run.

Imax shares rose to $28.66 (up 7%) on Friday after rumors — discredited by Imax — that Sony Corp. was considering a bid for the company. Monday’s closing price was $28.79.

The company’s top 2010 performers were led by the year’s highest-grossing titles “Avatar,” “Toy Story 3” and “Alice in Wonderland.” Imax screened nine of 2010’s top 10 pics, excluding “Despicable Me,” which bowed just four weeks after “Toy Story 3.” Of the last 25 pics Imax has put on its large screen, all but one opened at No. 1 in the domestic box office.

Disney’s “Tron: Legacy” bowed Dec. 17 to massive Imax shares, earning nearly 25% of its opening gross from Imax, the highest-ever opening share for the large-screen exhib. “Our 2010 box office results reflect our model of showcasing the biggest blockbuster titles, whether they are 2D or 3D, our network expansion and the significant increase in box office generated from our existing theaters,” Imax CEO Richard Gelfond said in a statement. “Looking ahead to 2011, we have more visibility into our future film slate than we have ever had.”

Imax has lined up 12 releases so far for this year, starting with Sony’s “The Green Hornet” on Jan. 14, followed by Universal’s “Sanctum” on Feb. 4.

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