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Large format grosses growing

'Matrix II' still selling thanks to IMAX bookings

TORONTO — Imax B.O. is taking an increasing proportion of the overall B.O. of “The Matrix Reloaded (aka “Matrix II”) as the weeks pass.

During a recent week, Imax’s digitally remastered (DMR) version of the pic grossed $416,000, accounting for 80% of the film’s domestic box office.

Dan Fellman, WB’s prexy of domestic distribution, notes that the costs to WB are minimal, so there’s not much downside to going with DMR releases. “Certainly the Imax audience enjoys it, and it’s obvious that there’s a very good word of mouth.”

Fellman says it’s too early to tell how the advent of day-and-date Imax DMR releases will affect the manner in which movies are rolled out: “I think it’s going to develop into a window of some sort; how it ends up is yet to be determined. But it definitely is an interesting way to present your film. There are real Imax fans that love it, and hopefully we’ll be able to deliver product to Imax on a continuing basis.”

Fellman says he has not had any complaints from exhibitors.

“We don’t see DMR as substituting for conventional theater,” agrees Imax co-prexy and co-CEO Brad Wechsler. “We see them as complementary.”

“We have to be careful in that we also have to have conventional exhibitors embrace Imax,” says Wechsler, “and hopefully those people that don’t have Imax theaters will, instead of feeling threatened, come to the conclusion that they’ll make more money by having Imax theaters.”

Wechsler points out that day-and-date releases provide Imax with huge marketing oomph. “Imax has always been a niche company with not terribly significant marketing reach,” he notes. “We’ve never really had the dollars to market to the consumer on the movie side. By going with Hollywood tentpole films, we are playing to Hollywood strengths, and we can leverage off what Hollywood does best — marketing the films. That will substantially change the marketing and notoriety of Imax films.”

Wechsler says the company is seeing a shift in the balance of signups for Imax theaters from institutional to commercial — partly due to the advent of the DMR process and also with the introduction earlier in the year of cheaper MPX Imax theater systems.

While there is currently a 50/50 split between institutional and commercial Imax theaters, deals for the future are heavily favoring the commercial side, 90% to 10%. “We are encouraged by that,” he says.

Imax’s research indicates that more than 30% of those who attended the DMR “Matrix II” had never seen an Imax film before, “so it’s broadening the pie for Warner Bros. on one hand and Imax on the other,” Wechsler says. “It’s a win-win.”

Wechsler also notes exhibitors and studios negotiate terms between themselves, and that Imax, “the new guy on the block,” is neither involved nor can it influence the terms — nor does it pocket any of the B.O. The company hopes to make its money down the line through more signings. “Our goal is to bring in the largest amount of incremental dollars to exhibitors and distributors,” Wechsler says.

“Matrix II” is Imax’s first R-rated release, and Wechsler admits that “we were extremely nervous in advance,” given Imax’s reputation for family fare, but neither the core Imax audience nor the new auds seem troubled by it.