J.P. Morgan Conference: Imax Splitting Screens to Favor Box Office Juggernauts

"John Carter"

"John Carter" prompted a $200 million write-down, and Rich Ross left two megabudget films for 2013.

A more flexible movie slate at the giant screen exhibitor has back-up plans in place should a potential blockbuster committed to its screens like Disney's "John Carter" turn into a dud.

TORONTO – Giant screen exhibitor Imax Corp. increasingly gets agreement from Hollywood studios to swap a box office dud committed to its screens for a juggernaut more likely to draw foot traffic.

“We’ve learned to have back-ups,” Imax CEO Richard Gelfond told the J.P. Morgan Global Technology Media and Telecom Conference on Wednesday, as he elaborated on a more flexible movie slate from the large format exhibitor.

It turns out Imax and its studio partners turn to back-room deal-making when one tentpole can’t hold a candle to another, especially on an opening weekend, which produces occasional agreement to give more Imax screens over to an unstoppable blockbuster.

After all, the Canadian exhibitor has enjoyed recent box office gold from The Hunger Games and The Avengers on its screens, even as it endured bombs like John Carter, Wrath of the Titans and Dark Shadows.

Gelfond recalled when tracking for John Carter ahead of its theatrical release was weak, and it was not going to be a blockbuster on its screens.

So Imax approached Disney and asked for the three-week run to be reduced to two weeks.

“They (Disney) said you can limit the run of John Carter,” he recounted, enabling more Imax theaters to screen a steam-rolling Hunger Games from Lionsgate as Disney’s sci-fi adventure flopped.

Warner Bros. also compromised and allowed Imax to split its screens between Dark Shadows and the more impressive Avengers release.

Imax is also screening Prometheus internationally starting next month, at the same time that Madagascar 3 and the Tom Cruise-starrer Rock of Ages plays on its screens, especially in Europe.

So if Prometheus doesn’t perform to expectation, Imax will go to Plan B and selectively swap in Madagascar 3 and Rock of Ages as back-ups, Gelfond told the J.P. Morgan conference.