China's Wanda Group Commits to Building 120 Imax Screens by 2021

Wang Jianlin Dalian Wanda Chairman H

The deal will make China the giant screen exhibitor's largest market in the world.

China's Wanda Cinema Line Corp. has signed a deal with Imax to build 80 giant-format theaters in the country by 2021, the Wall Street Journal reported on Wednesday.

The deal will make China Imax's biggest market in the world. Wanda, the movie exhibition unit of real estate and media conglomerate Dalian Wanda Group, plans to open 20 new Imax theaters each year beginning in 2016, Imax CEO Richard Gelfond told the Journal. Financial details were not disclosed.

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Wanda already runs 82 Imax theaters in its shopping and entertainment centers, which are located in major cities across China.

In July, Wanda and Imax revised an existing joint venture agreement, stipulating that Wanda would build at least 40 and as many as 120 new theaters over the next 12 years. The new deal ups Wanda's commitment to 120.

The Wanda deal also adds momentum to Imax's pivot towards brighter laser projection technology in its cinemas. Half of Wanda's new 80 Imax theaters will be outfitted with the new laser technology, giving moviegoers the highest-definition images, Gelfond told the Journal.

This latest Wanda deal caps off an ambitious year in the entertainment sector for the conglomerate, led by Wang Jianlin, China's richest individual. In September, the company announced plans to build an $8.2 billion film studio and entertainment facility in the eastern Chinese city of Qingdao. The company flew in a slew of Hollywood A-listers, including Leonardo DiCaprio, Nicole Kidman and Harvey Weinstein, to add glitz and lend credence to the announcement.

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Also in September, Wanda donated $20 million to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for a wing of its new film museum in Los Angeles.

Wang has said his ambition is to build Wanda into one of the world's biggest players in the "culture industry."

Last year, Wanda bought North America's second largest movie exhibitor, AMC Entertainment, for $2.6 billion, making the Chinese conglomerate the largest movie exhibitor by screens on the globe.

A boom in cinema building has been under way -- and escalating -- in China since at least 2007, when the country had approximately 3,000 movie screens. According to film market research company EntGroup, today there are 17,740 screens in China.