The global box office recovery for Imax has been driven by pulling premium ticket prices and releasing blockbusters in local languages in Asia.
So says Richard Gelfond, CEO of Imax, who told an investor conference that consumers emerging from the pandemic are willing to pay a premium for “something special,” whether it’s music concerts or live sports, and that includes the giant screen experience of his company.
“We charge more, but people say for something special and something outside the home and something I can enjoy with my family is worth paying for,” he told the JP Morgan Global Technology, Media and Communications Conference during a webcast session.
The box office recovery at the cinema technologies company was led by James Cameron’s Avatar: The way of the waterbut Imax has also pursued a release strategy of releasing local-language titles and Hollywood tentpoles across its international network of screens.
Recent Hollywood blockbusters that played at Imax theaters include Creed III, Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania And John Wick 4. The local language releases include those of Japan Suzume of Toho and Yash Raj Films’ Pathan in India and the Chinese box office, including that of China Film Group The Wandering Earth 2 release as China continues to reopen its cinemas.
Gelfond reported that one-third of its global revenues during the first financial quarter came from foreign content, and many of its local language releases generated box office sales in countries outside of their home markets. That helps cement Imax’s status as a launch pad for local language blockbusters in Japan, India, Hong Kong and Singapore, among others, among other Asian markets.
“We make a lot more language films and those are films that travel from one territory to another. So it’s Japanese animated movies and it’s Indian movies,” Gelfond said. And the return of Hollywood tentpoles atop local-language blockbusters allowed Imax a major uptick in its Asian business last year.
China is its own bucket, however, after COVID lockdowns, the return of tight censorship control and, until recently, reduced Hollywood product on the market. “China is a year behind the rest of the world in recovering from the pandemic,” which has led to a slowdown in expected movie theater sales and box office profits in that market, Gelfond told the investor conference.
On China’s Hollywood tentpole performance, Gelfond said “for the right movie, people will come out,” as he noted Avatar: The way of the water perform well locally, even if the box office for certain Marvel titles such as Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania impressed.
Gelfond warned that China was still in a recovery phase as minor COVID lockdowns continue to flare up in that market. “I don’t think it will go back to normal because it’s not a light switch. It’s a crane, but I think it’s moving in that direction at a fairly fast pace,’ he argued.