IMAX Corp announced plans yesterday to open 75 more theaters in China within four years in partnership with Wanda Cinemas, the country’s largest theater operator, underscoring the Chinese movie industry’s rapid expansion.
IMAX, known for its large-format film technology, already has 45 theaters open in China and it expects to have 300 theaters operating in the country by 2016.
There was no disclosure of the monetary value of the expansion plans and profit-sharing deal signed in Beijing.
CEO Richard Gelfond said China is the company’s fastest growing market, and the deal means Wanda will be the single largest operator of IMAX theaters outside the US.
“Last year, we experienced record growth at IMAX ... Nowhere was our growth more evident than in China,” Gelfond said.
He added that the company’s box office revenues in China last year were 286 million yuan (US$44 million), a 10-fold increase from the previous year.
Part of that stemmed from the conversion of Aftershock, a Chinese movie about the Tangshan earthquake of 1976, into IMAX format. That epic became China’s highest-grossing movie.
Gelfond said the company plans to do conversions of two upcoming movies, the patriotic Founding of a Party, and Hong Kong director John Woo’s Flying Tigers.
China’s fledgling movie industry remains relatively small compared to more developed markets like the US. The North American box office totaled US$10.6 billion in 2009, according to the Motion Picture Association of America.
However, expansion plans are rapidly under way. China’s Film Bureau said in a recent report that the country added 313 movie theaters and 1,533 new screens last year, for a total of just over 6,200 screens. The Chinese government has said it expects 20,000 screens in operation by 2015.
Wang Jianlin (王建林), chairman of the Wanda Group (萬達集團), said the partnership “will prove to be significant for China’s general movie industry.”
“Today’s strategic cooperation between our two companies is very important,” Wang said. “With Wanda providing the facilities and IMAX providing the technology ... more and more of the Chinese public will get the opportunity to experience this.”
China’s emerging middle class is showing a newfound enthusiasm for cinema. Last year’s blockbuster 3D epic Avatar, which also played on IMAX screens in China, drew enormous crowds willing to wait up to six hours in line for relatively pricey tickets.
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