Imax Turbo-Charges Box-Office Prospects

For viewers, the Imax brand connotes a premium moviegoing experience, featuring giant screens showing sharper, brighter images (sometimes in 3D), accompanied by finely tuned sound systems with sub-bass speakers capable of going a full octave lower than those in standard theaters.

For filmmakers, studios and exhibitors, when the Imax name is attached to a film, it also means bigger box office.

“If there are two auditoriums side-by-side in an AMC theater, one regular 2D and one Imax, we’ll do triple the revenue at an Imax auditorium as we do in the auditorium right next door,” says Adam Aron, chair and CEO of AMC Theaters, the largest operator of Imax screens in North America.

Part of this is due to the prices of Imax tickets, which are $4 to $5 higher than their standard 2D counterparts. But it’s also because, today, if people are going to make the effort to leave their homes to see a movie, they want to experience a cinematic spectacle in its most extreme form.

The grosses speak for themselves.

Director Robert Zemeckis’ 3D fantasy “The Polar Express” (2004), starring Tom Hanks, earned a quarter of its $302 million worldwide gross from fewer than 100 Imax screens. Also impressive was director James Cameron’s 3D sci-fi epic “Avatar,” which grossed $77 million in North America on its opening weekend in December 2009, with 12% of the revenue ($9.5 million) coming 178 Imax theaters, which accounted for less than 3% of the total number of screens.

Imax’s over-indexing continued this year with the Disney/Marvel feature “Black Panther,” which earned $404 million worldwide over the four-day Presidents Day weekend in February, $35 million of which came from 676 Imax screens, where the film was shown with an hour of footage specially formatted for Imax.

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