Strong B.O. boosts Imax profits

Net profit surges to $11.1 million

Imax CEO Richard Gelfond sees the merger of a Chinese and U.S. theater chain as good news for AMC Theaters, and he hopes some of the benefits will trickle down to his company.

“It’s exciting news for our friends at AMC, which will now have an ownership structure that can infuse capital,” he said Thursday on a conference call to discuss quarterly earnings. Dalian Wanda Group is wrapping up its acquisition of AMC, the U.S.’ second-largest exhib, and has vowed to invest half a billion dollars in AMC.

Imax net profit surged to $11.1 million last quarter from $1.8 million the year before. Revenue rose 23% to $70 million from $57 million.

China is Imax’s fastest-growing market outside the U.S. through a partnership with Wanda, making Imax one the few groups on the ground that has close relationships with both the Chinese and U.S. operation of a combined Wanda-AMC. China, Gelfond told Variety, has been more active than the U.S. has in building out Imax screens, and he hopes the U.S. biz “will follow that successful model.” 

Meanwhile, Hollywood studios still find China immensely complex, as Chinese authorities just set a clashing Aug. 30 release date for Warner Bros.’ “The Dark Knight Rises” and Sony’s “Spider-Man,” risking box office proceeds for both. Warners is said to be lobbying to move its release to September.

“It is really their issue. We are cautiously optimistic that everything will work out for those movies getting into the country,” Gelfond said in response to a question.

Imax total film revenue of $26 million was up from $19 million. Production and Imax DMR (digital media remastering) revenues were $19.7 million vs. $12.4 million. Gross box office from DMR titles was $173 million, up from $108 million the year before. Average box office per screen rose to $341,900 from $315,700.

The strong box office buoyed profits as more filmmakers film bigger chunks of their movies for Imax’s massive screens; the longest bit so far was 72 minutes of Warner’s “Dark Knight Rises.” Gelfond said the company needs to ramp up production of Imax cameras to meet increased demand.

“Prometheus” and “The Amazing Spider-Man” used Imax. And 2013 highlights include J.J. Abrams’ “Star Trek” sequel and “Catching Fire,” the second “The Hunger Games” installment.