Rant: Hollywood Doesn’t Understand IMAX


For weeks, many of the IMAX screenings of The Dark Knight have been sold out. Ticket-buyers have left those screenings ranting and raving about the IMAX difference. So yesterday, 20th Century Fox and Paramount announced that they will also be releasing Night at the Museum 2 and Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen on the big big BIG screen, and it makes me angry because Hollywood doesn’t even understand why people loved the IMAX version of The Dark Knight in the first place. It was because Christopher Nolan shot 20-plus minutes of the film using the large format IMAX cameras. The difference in those four sequences (combined with some establishing shots) made for an unforgettable experience.

I remember when I first began encouraging people to wait to see the film in IMAX, there was a backlash on the site, because people just didn’t get it – much like Hollywood. They had gone to the movie theater and had seen other big Hollywood films on the IMAX screen, and it wasn’t worth the $5+ ticket increase. Not only that, but only a portion of the IMAX screen was being used. When I was at Dreamworks Aniamtion a couple weeks ago, I asked Jeffrey Katzenberg if they had plans to create a movie which would take advantage of the whole IMAX screen. He responded unenthusiastically, claiming the current way they do IMAX is still a “quality experience” for the audience, and that it would depend “on how their footprint expands over time”.

And that is the issue. Right now, IMAX is only thought of as a supplemental. It’s some extra cash to add on to the box office total. But imagine if the movie studios asked themselves “how can we enhance the experience to justify the ticket price increase?” Maybe people would flock to an IMAX release of a film, like they did with The Dark Knight.

One only has to look at the numbers. Yeah, The Dark Knight in
IMAX accounts for only about 2% of the theaters, and only about 1% of the screens, but brought in 12.3% of the box office last weekend. Tickets are still being scalped on craigslist, even four weeks in. I’ve tried to get updated box office numbers, but latest I could find are from last week [thanks to Alex at FirstShowing]. In the first 19 days of release, The Dark Knight IMAX Experience grossed over $32 million. I’m guesstimating that the Dark Knight’s IMAX total is probably around $40 million. That’s more money then they made in the 4,025 theaters that shows the film this past weekend. That’s a lot of cash for just 124 of the estimated 10,000 or so screens showing the film. And who knows what the end total of the IMAX release could possibly be. $50 or more million seems possible. That’s more money than Rambo or Speed Racer was able to make in their respective domestic runs.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that every blockbuster film should feature segments shot in IMAX. I’m just saying, if Hollywood wants to take advantage of a virtually unexploited revenue stream, they need to put some focus on providing a value added IMAX experience. You want to get people back to the theaters in this on demand home theater based world? You need to give them a reason. 3D is one of those reasons, and IMAX could easily be the other.

I remember Pixar use to release two versions of their movies on DVD, one that was widescreen, and one that was specially rendered for a full frame television. Of course, things have now changed with the widespread adoption of HDTVs. But back then, most families preferred showing a full frame version of a movie on their 4:3 tv. And we all know that the full frame presentation usually cuts off the sides of the original theatrical presentation. Pixar didn’t want audiences to miss part of the presentation, so they spent the time and money to re-render films like A Bug’s Life for the 4:3 presentation. This way, viewers watching the full frame version wouldn’t miss a thing, and in some cases would even be seeing more than those who watched the original widescreen presentation.

My point is that an alternative cinematic presentation can be done. A Dreamworks animated film could be re-rendered for an IMAX presentation (but how much would that process cost?). Katzenberg said it himself that the best 3D experience is when the screen takes up your peripheral vision. If he’s so gung ho about 3D, then he should eliminate the widescreen in his IMAX presentations.