Big Screen Results

Imax rolls out new 3-D; revs, profits rise

Sweetening its increasingly lucrative friendship with Hollywood studios, Imax Corp. is developing proprietary technology that would allow live-action, 2-D films to be converted into 3-D for giant Imax screens.

Co-chair/co-chief operating officer Brad Wechsler revealed the technology during an earnings call Thursday that confirmed the company’s growing strength alongside traditional exhibs. Today, 20th Century Fox’s “Robots” bows on screens nationwide including on Imax systems.

Fueled by $45 million in box office receipts for “The Polar Express: An Imax 3-D Experience” and a growth in the number of screens, Toronto-based company saw net profits climb to $7.8 million last quarter, compared with a loss of $507,000 in the final quarter of 2003. Revenue clocked in at $47.5 million, up from $29.9 million. Film revenue rose to $10.7 million compared with $6.2 million.

Imax’s stock has been on the rise in recent weeks on news of additional theater deals around the world, as well as speculation it could be snapped up. Shares were up more than 5% to $10.54 Thursday on the healthy earnings.

‘Watershed’ year

“The year 2004 was a watershed for Imax, as we significantly grew the commercial Imax theater network and established it as a valuable new distribution platform for Hollywood event films,” Wechsler said on the earnings call, joined by Imax co-chair/chief operating officer Richard Gelfond.

The ability to convert a live-action pic from 2-D to 3-D could present a new window for studios to reach moviegoers, akin to “Polar,” Imax said.

Wechsler told Daily Variety he expects the first such pic to bow in 2006 and that title will likely be identified this year. He predicted it would be a major studio release.

“We’ve been working on this for years. Right now, I would say we are very well along the path,” said Wechsler, adding that Imax will continue to book live-action 2-D films as well.

Total pricetag for converting a movie into 3-D is expected to cost $5 million-$7 million, with Imax and the studio sharing the expense.

Imax said the release slate for the rest of the year includes Warner Bros.’ “Batman Begins” on June 17 and “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” on July 15. In the fall, Imax will bow “Magnificent Desolation” from Playtone, Tom Hanks’ production shingle. “Magnificent” tells the story of man’s first walk on the moon.

Imax hasn’t yet announced its main 2005 holiday movie, but said “Polar” will be revived for a brief run at the end of the year.

Boosted by its new projection system, company inked deals for 36 Imax systems last year, its best showing since 1999. In the U.S., exhibs signing with Imax included Cinemark USA and National Amusements Inc., the third- and sixth-largest chains, respectively.

Eleven of the deals were drawn up in the last quarter, including two multitheater agreements to sell Imax systems in China.

Gelfond predicted a robust 2005, forecasting revenue of between $140 million-$145 million and scores of new theater deals. This week, company inked deals to bring Imax systems to Guatemala and Costa Rica.

As of Dec. 31, there were 248 Imax theaters operating in more than 35 countries.

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