Dis, Imax think 3-D


Imax has big things planned for Disney. On Tuesday, the giant-screen exhibitor announced a comprehensive pact with Disney to release five 3-D movies in Imax theaters simultaneously with their openings in conventional venues. The deal follows Imax's success from a long-running relationship with Warner Bros. and more recent day-and-date arrangements with other studios.

The Disney agreement will launch with the Nov. 6, 2009, release of Robert Zemeckis' 3-D animated feature "A Christmas Carol." It may be no coincidence that Zemeckis' animated seasonal drama "The Polar Express" — which Warners unspooled in 2004 — saw outsized grosses when released simultaneously in scores of Imax 3-D venues.

"Imax has a great track record and a loyal following when it comes to presenting epic entertainment," Disney distribution boss Chuck Viane said. "We believe we have a unique and exciting slate of films that lend themselves to the Imax format."

Imax has been aggressively working to transition from an emphasis on space and nature films to the regular release of commercial Hollywood tentpoles in its proprietary giant-screen format. In a related move, Imax is converting hundreds of its auditoriums to digital projection in a transition to digital 3-D exhibition.

To date, the giant-screen exhibitor has used special film prints in programming occasional 3-D titles. But Imax missed out this year on Disney's digital 3-D phenom "Hannah Montana and Miley Cyrus: Best of Both Worlds Concert."

Imax Filmed Entertainment chief Greg Foster said the Disney pact "dovetails ideally with our strategy to build a slate of top-quality movies from the best filmmakers and studios."

Imax succeeded impressively on that score with Warners' "The Dark Knight," whose $995 million in worldwide boxoffice includes more than $62 million in giant-screen grosses from hundreds of Imax 2-D venues.

Imax is now showing DreamWorks Animation's family comedy "Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa" in many of its auditoriums, and DWA's 3-D tentpole "Monsters vs. Aliens" figures prominently in Imax's first-quarter plans. The Toronto-based company launched a five-film pact with DWA in the summer with "Kung Fu Panda."

Imax had been set to play Warners' "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince" over the holidays until the studio postponed its scheduled opening for the adventure tentpole until July. To compensate in the fourth quarter, Imax recently inked an agreement with Fox to open "The Day the Earth Stood Still" in dozens of giant-screen venues simultaneously with its Dec. 12 bow in conventional theaters.