Imax Corp. is selling a 20% stake in its China operation to a Chinese investment firm, an $80 million deal that will pave the way for an initial public offering.

Imax said Tuesday that the investment by CMC Capital Partners would be paid over two installments, one this year and one in 2015. The deal will bring Chinese ownership to Imax China, facilitating an IPO down the road that aims to take advantage of the red-hot growth of China’s film business.

Imax, the large-format exhibitor, has been among the most aggressive U.S. entertainment companies in developing business in China during the past 15 years. CMC Capital Partners is run by investor Ruigang Li and China-focused private equity firm FountainVest Partners.

“China is an enormously complex market in which we have accomplished quite a bit over the last 15 years,” said Imax Corp. CEO Richard L. Gelfond. “At this juncture, it makes sense to bring in Chinese investors to help us better address local market dynamics and further optimize our business in China, including both our core theatre business as well as new business initiatives such as the home theatre joint venture we announced last year with TCL. We believe Ruigang Li and CMC, as well as FountainVest, are ideal partners whose status, leadership and expertise will be invaluable in helping us accomplish these goals.”

Gelfond emphasized that the partnership with CMC would help fuel its expansion plans and strengthen relationships with government officials.

Imax at present has 173 screens in China and a backlog of 273 waiting to open.

“China’s movie and entertainment industry is at a critical point of its development,” Ruigang Li, chairman of CMC Capital Partners, said. “As the preeminent investment platform in China dedicated to the media and entertainment sector, CMC is excited to be able to forge this strategic alliance with Imax … Based on our common understanding of market opportunities, industry evolution trends, and effective strategy, CMC and FountainVest look forward to working together with Imax towards accelerating the growth of China’s movie and entertainment sector and increasing the presence of premium China entertainment content throughout the global market.”

Imax China will remain a subsidiary of Imax Corp., but it will be governed by a nine-member board of directors comprising six Imax reps, one each from CMC and FountainVest and one independent seat.

Raine Group advised Imax on the deal.