Widescreen Format Gains Steam With 70mm 'Orient Express'

The format, a favorite among film buffs, is catching on among tentpole releases.
Courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox
'Murder on the Orient Express'

Is a 70mm film rebirth ahead? The wide, high-resolution format — used to display classics like The Sound of Music, Ben-Hur and Lawrence of Arabia — is a movie-buff favorite, but its use has been limited since the start of the digital cinema era. That may be changing.

A 70mm presentation of Fox’s Murder on the Orient Express opened the Camerimage international cinematography festival on Saturday, and the film also unspooled in the format last weekend on four screens in New York and Los Angeles. The grosses for the film were solid but not spectacular, according to exhibition insiders (the sampling was too small for Fox to break out, and the studio hardly went all out for the limited release).

When Warner Bros. released Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk on July 21, it included 31 Imax 70mm screens and roughly 100 standard 70mm sites, making it among the largest wide-format releases in the past 25 years.

Orient Express and Dunkirk are building off The Weinstein Co.’s experiment in 2015 with Quentin Tarantino's The Hateful Eight. For that film, there wasn’t a 70mm projector base available, so TWC found vintage projectors and rebuilt and installed them (roughly 100) at a total cost of $8 million to $10 million, according to sources.

Upcoming films said to be using a wide format include Disney’s Star Wars: The Last Jedi (Dec. 15) and The Nutcracker and the Four Realms (Nov. 2, 2018). With the Warner Bros.-owned 70mm projectors available, it’s also rumored that Kodak is instigating the rerelease of some of the 70mm era’s classic films, though the company declined comment.

Orient Express director Kenneth Branagh, for one, says he’d like to use the format again, calling 70mm’s prospects "very exciting." He elaborated that he was attracted to large-format film for its "immersive quality, in a way its classical qualities — increased texture, depth. For us, a chance to evoke period in a story where that’s what you want. It’s the golden age of travel."

Added Branagh, "Also, the format is great for the human face, which becomes this massive graphic piece."

A version of this story first appeared in the Nov. 15 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.