Cannes: Imax Hails "Year of the Blockbuster," Predicts Tough Times for Indie Fare

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Richard Gelfond

CEO Richard Gelfond said as the studios move toward bigger tentpole pictures, smaller films are shifting from theaters to online streaming platforms.

Imax CEO Richard Gelfond at the Cannes Film Festival on Saturday hailed the "year of the blockbuster" and said smaller films are shifting from theaters to online streaming platforms.

The indie business built Cannes, and both the film festival and the Cannes market are primarily devoted to cinema made outside the major studios.

But the mid-budget films that form the core of the indie business are increasingly coming under threat as studio-made blockbusters take up more and more of the global box office. This, of course, is best illustrated by Disney's Avengers: Endgame, which has earned more than $2.5 billion to date, making it the most successful film of all time. For the indie business, it looks like things can only get worse.

“Both exhibitors and the studios are moving toward more event-driven films and more of the box office is going to these movies,” said Gelfond, speaking Saturday at the company's annual Cannes beach lunch. He noted that Imax, which solely screens blockbuster event titles, had its best-ever year in 2018, earning more than $1 billion in revenue for the first time ever. Gelfond expects to blow past that figure this year. Avengers: Endgame alone has grossed some $200 million for Imax so far.

Gelfond sees the traditional mid-budget indie film moving more and more to streaming platforms, which, he noted, “don't have to do a worldwide theatrical marketing campaign to make the numbers work.”

Imax itself is willing to work with the streamers if, Gelfond said, they make “Imax-worthy films.” Imax this week announced a deal with Amazon to exclusively bow Tom Harper’s The Aeronauts in North America for a week starting Oct. 25.

“This is, honestly, the first film from a streaming company that is Imax-worthy, meaning it can be a wonderful experience that we can enhance and people across cultures can enjoy,” he said. Imax is in preliminary talks with sub-distributors in some international territories with a view to releasing the film elsewhere in the world.

Gelfond said he would consider doing similar deals with Netflix if the streaming giant agrees to respect the exclusivity of the theatrical window and does not put its films online at the same time they are in theaters. Said the Imax CEO: “When they respect the windows, we’d love to do something, and I think they will."