Imax CEO Dampens Box Office Expectations for July Theater Reopening

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Richard Gelfond

Richard Gelfond also addressed an industry debate about premium VOD as he appeared at a virtual investors conference.

Imax CEO Richard Gelfond cooled speculation about major box office for Hollywood tentpoles when they help reopen the movie theater chains in July when he appeared at an investors conference on Tuesday.

"I'm concerned that people are focused on the opening weekend. Investors have to get that out of their minds. It's not going to challenge Avengers: Endgame as the biggest opening of all time. That's just not happening," Gelfond told the Credit Suisse Annual Virtual Communications Conference during a session that was webcast.

For Imax, which Gelfond said has a strong balance sheet as its theaters remain closed, likely until early July, next month's reopening by the major movie chains will be about getting film-goers to return to the multiplex safely and comfortably with limited capacity and social distancing.

He also discussed the major studios continuing to push back theatrical release dates for their tentpoles as movie chains prepare to reopen their doors. "You never know until the release date is the bottom line We're dealing with government regulations and a virus," Gelfond said.

He added Warner Bros. pushing the release of Tenet by two weeks to July 31 was good news for Imax it allowed the giant screen exhibitor to play Disney's Mulan from July 24 and also screen Christopher Nolan's much-anticipated next movie. 'When Tenet was to open on the 17th, it would have been difficult to play Mulan. Now we can play Mulan and Tenet," Gelfond said.

He added Hollywood box office will not return to pre-COVID-19 levels before consumers feel safe and relaxed about returning to the multiplex. "If you assume there's a vaccine or treatment (for the coronavirus), and by early 2021 people are safe in resuming their lives, then I'm incredibly optimistic about 2021 (box office)," Gelfond told investors.

The Imax boss also addressed an industry debate about Universal Pictures' recent decision to break the theatrical window for Trolls World Tour amid the coronavirus pandemic, and what it means for the evolving premium VOD distribution model.

"I don't think the issues around Trolls World Tour have anything to do with blockbusters," Gelfond told the conference as other tentpoles like Tenet, Top Gun and No Time to Die have remained in the theatrical pipeline. He added Trolls World Tour was a unicorn event for Universal.

"Let's be clear: there's no evidence that a PVOD release is ever going to do for a blockbuster what a theatrical release did," he argued.