Imax Eyes Becoming Hollywood's Preferred Early Release Platform

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Tom Cruise’s "Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol" screening in Imax theaters five days before December 21 theatrical roll-out could herald additional pre-release engagements for the giant screen exhibitor.

TORONTO – Imax could become a preferred early release window for Hollywood studio pictures if the bet by Paramount Pictures on its pre-release of Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol from December 16 pays out.

“The other studios are watching because we all know how to stand out in a crowded field is a problem for all studios,” Imax CEO Rich Gelfond told the UBS Global Media and Communications Conference in New York City on Monday morning.

“If this works, there’s a reasonable chance that other films will be released this way with an early Imax window,” he added.

Ghost Protocol, the fourth in the Mission: Impossible film franchise, will screen on Imax’s super-sized screens five days before a wide theatrical release on December 21.

Gelfond said Imax started talking a year ago to Hollywood studios about becoming a U.S. market platform for early releases and having its fanboy audience take to Twitter and Facebook to comment positively about what they’ve seen before a movie screens in traditional theaters.

He said movies are already released in New York City and Los Angeles to build buzz before a release elsewhere.

“So why not release first on Imax? What if we provide an early release window and create a buzz for the movie before it opens on Friday,” Gelfond questioned, echoing earlier studio discussions.

In the end, Paramount Pictures stepped forward with Mission: Impossible 4, which has around 30 minutes of footage shot using Imax cameras, for an exclusive five-day run on super-sized screens before moving to the local multiplex.

Gelfond concedes there’s risks for the studios in early release engagements with Imax.

The studios have to believe in the film, because it’s opening on 300 screens, not 3000.

And U.S. exhibitors with a small Imax footprint are reluctant to see Imax secure additional early window engagements domestically.

But Gelfond insisted Paramount Pictures sees value in the Imax-only engagement, which enables the studio to introduce Jeremy Renner as a successor to Tom Cruise in future installments of the Mission: Impossible franchise.

Imax also has a relationship with Cruise after the actor narrated one of its documentaries, and director Brad Bird, making his live action debut, and producer J.J. Abrams, also gave their backing.

The giant screen exhibitor has had earlier success with Imax-only runs for Harry Potter, Tron and I Am Number Four titles in select international markets like France and Russia.

The pre-release of Mission: Impossible 4 is a U.S. market first for Imax.

The attraction for the giant screen exhibitor is obvious: early release engagement, besides building its value for the Hollywood studios, can boost foot traffic to a blown-up Imax screening of a blockbuster release after the first week.