Imax CEO Predicts Fewer Simultaneous Releases of Hollywood Blockbusters in China

Richard Gelfond said a bold plan by Chinese authorities to free-up screen time for domestic movies by debuting foreign films with the same dates didn't pay off as intended.

TORONTO – Richard Gelfond doesn’t expect many more Hollywood superheroes to clash at the local multiplex in China.

The Imax CEO on Wednesday told the Goldman Sachs’ Communacopia conference that Chinese authorities directing screen traffic in the Asian market weren’t impressed with the results when Warner Bros.’ The Dark Knight Rises and Columbia Pictures’ The Amazing Spider-Man opened simultaneously in China on Imax screens on Aug. 27.

“My guess is they’re going to rethink that,” Gelfond told investors.

The Imax boss argued the cannibalization was less about reducing slots for Hollywood movies than opening up screentime for Chinese films to bring the ratio of local and foreign movies in China more into balance.

“Instead of two Hollywood films stretching out over two months, they wanted one month for Chinese films,” Gelfond said of creating black-out periods for non-domestic films by bunching Hollywood titles.

Except the strategy hasn't worked out as intended by the Chinese authorities.

Gelfond, who was in China last week, in part to hold discussions with government authorities, said the arms-length China Film Group, which charges a fee to import foreign titles, makes less money when Hollywood films don’t follow one after the other.

And Chinese exhibitors make less money as well, and are more interested in attracting consumers to their shopping malls by building multiplexes, than protecting local films.

Imax has similarly bet heavily on the Chinese market, after last year revealing a deal with Wanda Cinemas, the country’s largest theater chain, to build and install 75 giant screens in movie theaters over the next three years.

So Gelfond expects the Chinese authorities to relax overall government regulation for Hollywood films in 2013, after the next generation of leaders in China are revealed during the upcoming Communist Party’s National Congress.

And to further build goodwill with Chinese authorities, Imax will continue to show local films on its screens in China.

That follows Imax and Chinese film studio Huayi Bros. Group expanding their partnership to include more re-mastering of local language films in the Imax format.

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