Imax is Mad for Matrix
by Phyllis Furman
The curtain's going up on Imax.
It won't just be science fiction geeks watching closely on Nov. 5, when "The Matrix Revolutions," debuts on Imax big screens across the country.
The "Matrix" release marks the first time a big live action Hollywood flick has ever opened on the same day at both conventional and Imax theaters - and Imax wants Hollywood and theater operators to notice.
"It's a watershed moment," said Leland Westerfield, media analyst at Jefferies & Co. "It's the first time we'll see whether audiences prefer the big screen 70 mm experience over 35 mm."
Imax has gone Hollywood in a bid to ramp up its network of Imax theaters around the world.
The company once known mostly for educational films like "Everest" makes most of its cash from leasing its equipment to theater chains.
To keep growing, Imax needs to latch on to compelling movies, and that's where Hollywood comes in. With new technology that lets the company reformat conventional 35 mm film for the big screen, Imax has begun to strike deals with the studios.
Released on large screens so far: "Apollo 13," "Star Wars: Episode II - Attack of the Clones" and "The Matrix Reloaded," which has taken in $12.4 million at the box office since its Imax release. But those movies came out after their debut in theaters.
By releasing "Matrix Revolutions" the same day as it debuts on conventional screens, Imax will get the full impact of a mega marketing blitz funded by "Matrix" studio, Warner Bros.
"Warner Bros. is already creating a lot of buzz," said Marla Backer, an analyst at Research Associates.
As Hollywood has tuned in, so has Wall Street. Imax' stock has doubled since the beginning of the year, closing Friday at $7.91.
So far fans have been willing to pay up for the big screen experience. Theatergoers who saw the Imax version of "Matrix Reloaded" at the Imax theater in the popular Sony multiplex at Broadway and W. 68th Street paid $13 a ticket, vs. $10 a ticket at a regular screen.
"Our strategy is to offer the consumer a premium product at a premium price," said Imax co-CEO Brad Wechsler. But Imax has to get more studios to sign on. It hasn't announced a big Hollywood deal in some time.
Last week, MGM chief Alex Yemenidjian, was asked at a big media conference whether he'd consider an Imax version of MGM's next James Bond flick.
Yemenidjian said he's talking to Imax, but MGM has yet to commit to anything. Also on Imax's wish list: the next "Harry Potter" and "Spider Man 2."
"I would like to have more visibility," Wechsler said. "We want to show theater owners we have a continuous flow of product."