Imax and Wanda Sign Deal to Build 150 New Screens in China

A Wanda Imax theater in Beijing

China already generates one-third of Imax global box-office revenue.

Imax China and Wanda Cinema Line on Tuesday unveiled an agreement to build 150 new Imax theaters in China. The agreement is Imax's largest-ever new theater deal.

The theaters will be built throughout China over six years, starting in 2017, with 110 of the screens expected to be installed by 2020.

Controlled by China's richest man, Wang Jialin, Wanda Cinema Line is Asia's largest film exhibitor, controlling an estimated 18 percent of all Chinese movie screens. In 2007, Imax opened its first big screen in partnership with Wanda in Dongguan Province. Today, Wanda Cinema operates more than 160 Imax theaters in China.

Tuesday's deal ups Wanda's total installed or ordered screens to 360. The partners say the majority of the 200 Imax screens on order will open over the next three years, with the full rollout to be concluded by 2022.

"This is a landmark development in Imax’s history and a strategic linchpin in our growth strategy," Imax CEO Richard Gelfond said in a statement. "It not only strengthens our market-leading position in China, the world’s fastest-growing film market, but also reinforces our strong working relationship with Wanda Cinema, one of our most important business partners, and speaks to the value Wanda places on the Imax business."

China generates about a third of Imax's global box-office revenue. As of June 30, Imax's theater network in China totaled 335 screens, up from 250 at the same time last year. Imax says that its rapid expansion into more than 100 different cities in China has yet to slow per-screen revenue in the country, with averages remaining stable at $1.2 million to $1.3 million per year for the past four years.

"We look forward to leveraging this successful model for years to come, partnering with Imax to foster the incredible expansion of China’s film industry and bring even more blockbuster films to Chinese moviegoers,” said John Zeng, president of Wanda Cinema Line.

In addition to the Hollywood imports it screens in China, Imax has been increasing the number of local-language films it screens. The company says it expects to release anywhere from eight to 10 Chinese titles in the country this year.

In June, Wanda-owned Legendary Entertainment's Warcraft set a new opening-day box-office mark for Imax China with $5.3 million in ticket sales. The company has digitally remastered four other high-profile Chinese titles for Imax release this summer, including Wanda Media’s For a Few Bullets; Edko Films’ Cold War 2, starring Chow Yun-fat; Skiptrace, starring Jackie Chan; and the 3D adventure film Time Raiders, directed by Daniel Lee and jointly produced by Le Vision Pictures and Shanghai Film Group. The company also plans to release The Great Wall, starring Matt Damon and directed by Zhang Yimou, and says it is in discussions with potential partners' further releases, including Journey to the West II.