Video: IMAX gets more mainstream

By Jerry Cobb Reporter
CNBC
updated 12/14/2004 5:53:50 PM ET 2004-12-14T22:53:50

Warner Brothers recent release " Polar Express " did moderately well at the mainstream megaplex. But the 3D version in IMAX theatres is tearing up the tracks.

Like the little engine that could, the film is still going strong in IMAX theatres, five weeks after its release.

“I think the word of mouth is just so strong, and the demand is so high, that we're going to see this kind of attendance through the end of the year -- and hopefully into January," said IMAX co-CEO Richard Gelfond.

While standard 35-millimeter prints of “Polar Express" are pulling in an average of $3,000 dollars per screen in a weekend, the IMAX 3D version is doing 15 times that .

"It demonstrates to other theatre operators that the movie can work, that it draws an audience and that's going to help it sell more systems,” said entertainment industry analyst Dennis McAlpine. “And that's where IMAX makes its money."

Multi- and mega-plex operators have been adding more IMAX screens ever since the company developed smaller, less-expensive versions of the big screen, 3D systems popular with museums and science centers. New technology also makes it much easier for Hollywood studios to convert mainstream movies into the IMAX format.

"You can now convert 35-millimeter movies into IMAX movies relatively cheaply -- $2 million to $3 million,” said Eric Wold, an analyst with Merriman Curhan & Ford in San Francisco. “You shoot it the exact same way as you did in the past, and it now enables studios to create a truly differentiated movie experience that you couldn't before."

IMAX stock has largely recovered from a steep tumble a few years ago, when a rash of bankruptcies in the movie theatre business put the brakes on sales of IMAX systems. Going forward, the company is focused on getting more mainstream movies into its theatres -- like Fox's digitally-animated "Robots," which will be released in IMAX 3D next March.

"Now we take Hollywood's best movies, we can turn them into IMAX movies and generate gross and we have a low-cost system for exhibitors,” said Gelfond. “So I think our business is on a really on a very strong upward curve."

The strong showing of “Polar Express” in IMAX 3D is expected to convince more theatre operators to add IMAX screens. But the company's long-term success depends on a steady flow of mainstream movies from Hollywood.   

The next wide release in IMAX 3D will be Disney's "Aliens of the Deep," from "Titanic" director James Cameron, which is due out at the end of January.

© 2012 CNBC, Inc. All Rights Reserved

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