Imax Posts Higher Fourth Quarter Earnings, Revenue on 'Star Wars' Box Office

Playbook: Star Wars The Force Awakens - H 2016
Courtesy of Lucasfilms 2015/Walt Disney Studios

The giant-screen exhibitor, led by CEO Richard Gelfond, beat an analyst estimate of 88 cents per share for full-year 2015 earnings, but missed on the fourth quarter profit forecast.

Imax Corp. on Wednesday posted a rise in fourth-quarter revenue and earnings as the giant-screen exhibitor nabbed strong box-office grosses from such tentpoles as Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

Imax, led by CEO Richard Gelfond, reported net income of $26.2 million for the three months to Dec. 31, 2015, compared with a year-ago profit of $22.5 million.

Third-quarter revenue was $119 million, up 16 percent from a year-earlier $102.4 million. Full-year 2015 earnings came to $64.6 million, up from a year-earlier profit of $42 million, on overall revenue of $373.8 million, up 29 percent from a year-earlier $290 million.

Weekend Box Office 2/21/16

Comscore Actuals for Weekend of 2/21/15
Weekend Cume Theaters Week
1. Deadpool $56.5M $236.9M 3,722 2
2. Kung Fu Panda 3 $12.5M $117.1M 3,448 4
3. Risen $11.8M $11.8M 2,915 1
4. The Witch $8.8M $8.8M 2,046 1
5. How to Be Single $8.2M $31.7M 3,357 2
6. Race $7.4M $7.4M 2,369 1
7. Zoolander 2 $5.5M $23.7M 3,418 2
8. Star Wars: Episode VII - The Force Awakens $3.9M $921.7M 1,618 10
9. The Revenant $3.9M $165.2M 1,939 9
10. Hail, Caesar! $2.7M $26.3M 1,726 3

The full-year 2015 adjusted earnings per share of $1.02 was up 36 percent and beat an analyst estimate of 88 cents per share. The adjusted fourth-quarter earnings of 39 cents per share missed an analyst forecast of earnings of 43 cents per share.

The full-year global box office for Imax reached $1 billion, up 31 percent over 2014. The exhibitor set the table for the colossal box-office performance of The Force Awakens by offering all of its large-format screens in North America and most of its foreign screens to the Disney sequel's initial release in December.

In Imax theaters alone, The Force Awakens quickly crossed the $100 million global box-office mark in a record-setting 12 days. Other fourth-quarter releases by Imax included Crimson Peak, The Martian, Spectre and The Hunger Games: Mockingjay — Part 2.

"2015 was undoubtedly a historic year for Imax," CEO Gelfond said Wednesday in a statement. "We delivered a record $1 billion in global box office, added 136 theaters to our network to bring our global total to over 1,000, launched our highly anticipated laser projection system and, of course, successfully listed our China business on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange." 

Imax raised its theater installation guidance for 2016 from the 115-120 range to the 135-140 range. That increased guidance is due in part to more anticipated theater signings by China's Wanda Cinema Line Corp., which already has a deal with Imax to build 80 giant-format theaters in China by 2021.

Upcoming Imax releases of Hollywood tentpoles in 2016 include Batman Vs Superman: Dawn of Justice, The Jungle Book, Captain America: Civil War and Alice in Wonderland: Through the Looking Glass. After the exhibitor had successful releases of homegrown movies in China such as Monster Hunt, the highest-grossing Chinese movie ever, and Mojin — The Lost Legend, Imax told analysts it expects to do more local-language releases in 2016.

"We've seen over the last six months incredible traction in the local-language business [in China]," Greg Foster, CEO of Imax Entertainment and senior vp of Imax Corp., said Wednesday during an analyst call. Local films do especially well in China during unofficial blackout periods in which Hollywood studio pics move to the sidelines so multiplexes can host homegrown movies.

The large-screen exhibitor listed shares of its Imax China unit on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange on Oct. 8, 2015, and has seen that share price, initially at HKD$31.00, rise 45 percent through Feb. 24. Imax currently has a 68.5 percent stake in Imax China.

"I'd say we're going to keep our foot to the metal in China," Gelfond told analysts when asked about additional growth in that Asian market after recent investment returns.