Imax hopes for Potter magic

Asia expansion under way; non-English feature coming

TOKYO -- Megascreen theater company Imax Corp. is hoping Harry Potter's magic touch will help catapult the company itself into a global smash hit.

Like Hollywood's movie studios, Imax is increasingly banking its future on countries outside North America. And Asia -- the world's most populous continent -- plays a leading role in the company's aggressive expansion plans.

The region is "crucial" for Imax, said Larry O'Reilly, executive vice president for theater development.

"While the domestic release is important, the international release is even more important because when you have big franchise films like Harry Potter, they make more money internationally than they do in the domestic market," O'Reilly said in an interview.

O'Reilly traveled to Tokyo this week to promote "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince," premiering on Wednesday globally and at the three commercial Imax screens that debuted in Japan this year.

Operated as a joint venture with Tokyu Recreation, the three locations are off to a bullish start. The first featured film, "Transformers 2: Revenge of the Fallen," has grossed 54 million yen ($585,000) as of Saturday, he said.

"For us, big growth opportunities are here in Japan," O'Reilly said, noting that the country is the world's No. 2 moviegoing market. "We think it'll be very reasonable to have 25-30 theaters in the not-too-distance future."

Worldwide, the Canadian company operated 371 Imax theaters at the end of the first quarter.

Of those, it counted 250 commercial theaters, a 40 percent jump from the previous year.

It aims to build 1,000 commercial theaters within five to 10 years, O'Reilly said.

Last month, Imax made its first foray into non-Hollywood films.

It announced plans to start reformatting mainstream Chinese films for its theaters beginning in July 2010 as part of a deal with one of China's largest film studios, Huayi Brothers.

The film "Aftershock" will be the first of three releases starting next summer at theaters in China as well as other parts of Asia and North America.

Imax has 18 theaters in China, with plans to open 40 more by the end of 2012.

The company has also unveiled recent partnerships in Taiwan, Russia, India and Europe.
An Imax screen is like high-definition TV for a movie theater. They can be anywhere from 40-feet high such as on 42nd Street in New York to eight-story tall screens in London and Sydney.

As many as 700 people can fit in a single cinema.
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