IMAX to roll out 40 new theatres across China, after boom in first-half box office income

Yujing Liu

IMAX China Holdings, the exclusive licensee of ultra-wide screen IMAX film technology in Greater China, will join forces with South Korean cinema chain CGV to provide 40 new theatres on the mainland, after IMAX theatres posted record first-half box office income in the country.

More than half of the new theatres will adopt IMAX’s new laser projector technology, which provides brighter images and sharper resolution, according to Jim Athanasopoulos, chief financial officer of IMAX China, the Hong Kong-listed unit of Canada’s IMAX Corporation.

IMAX theatres in China earned US$237 million in box office income from the beginning of this year to July 14, reflecting a 26 per cent gain from the same period last year.

“In renminbi terms, we are up 35 per cent in China … it’s a record Q1 [first quarter] and Q2 [second quarter] for us. We’ve been quite happy with what’s going on at the box office overall,” said Athanasopoulos in a phone interview with the South China Morning Post on Tuesday.

“We are continuing to focus on our expansion in the market,” he said, adding that IMAX China plans to add around 90 new cinemas nationwide this year. The theatre chain currently has more than 600 cinemas in China.

The result stands in stark contrast with the overall Chinese cinema market, which suffered a 3 per cent year-on-year drop in box office revenue to 31 billion yuan (US$4.5 billion) in the first half, the first decline in nine years, according to official data.

Rising ticket prices and a shortage of high-quality domestic films led to the slowdown in the world’s second-largest film market, analysts at China International Capital Corp (CICC) wrote in a research report on Tuesday.

Jim Athanasopoulos, chief financial officer of IMAX China. Photo: Handout

Shares of IMAX China declined 5.1 per cent to HK$18.3 in Hong Kong afternoon trade on Tuesday.

For IMAX China, the Hollywood blockbuster Avengers: Endgame was the top performer, contributing US$83 million in box office sales in the first half. The Chinese sci-fi film The Wandering Earth trailed in the No 2 spot, contributing US$48 million.

“People want to experience the best thing possible, and they want to pay a premium for it. IMAX falls nicely into that place,” Athanasopoulos said.

Athanasopoulos is optimistic about the peak summer season, as he sees strong demand for movies including Disney’s remake of The Lion King, the upcoming Chinese sci-fi blockbuster Shanghai Fortress and firefighter action film The Bravest.

But the cancellation of the release of at least four Chinese films in June has weighed on the market, as authorities tightened controls over cultural works ahead of the 70th anniversary of the country’s founding in October.

The Eight Hundred, a World War II epic and the first Chinese film shot entirely on IMAX cameras, suspended its release, originally scheduled on July 5, after some critics said the film inappropriately glorified the Nationalist forces in China’s struggle with Japanese invaders.

“The cancellations have weakened the quality of the films in the summer season, which could negatively impact the box office,” CICC analysts led by Meng Wei said in the report.

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