IMAX Chief Executive Rich Gelfond told analysts Thursday that China's decision to release "The Dark Knight Rises" and "The Amazing Spider-Man" at the same time last summer cut into the box office for both superhero films.
Gelfond said he believes the Chinese government engaged in this type of protectionism to bolster Chinese films. During the first part of the 2012, Gelfond said that U.S. movies made up some 75 percent of the Chinese box office and the government was hoping to even the playing field for domestic movies.
But it didn't go according to plan, according to Gelfond, who said that the box office hit "…will give China pause."
"It's a short-term policy," he added. "Most of the people I talked to over there felt it was not going to be a long-term policy."
The IMAX chief's comments came after the company reported bullish third-quarter earnings Thursday driven by theater expansions and $110 million global gross for "The Dark Knight Rises" on its screens.
With its massive population of moviegoers and rapidly expanding network of IMAX and 3D-enabled screens, China is the holy grail for studios looking to bolster sluggish domestic attendance. However, China has long been wary of allowing U.S. companies to gain too big a threshold in its borders or too tight a stranglehold over its $2.1 billion box-office market.
This year, the government slowly eased the door open for studios. Under a new trade agreement, China will allow U.S. companies to release an additional 14 films a year if they are 3D or in big-screen formats like Imax. That brings the total number of U.S. films released in the country annually to 34.
Gelfond said he still believes the market presents enormous opportunities for companies like IMAX, which are not only releasing U.S. films but are partnering with Chinese companies to bring their movies to their 70mm screens. In September, IMAX said it was digitally remastering four Chinese films from Huayi Brothers for its big-screen format.
"Nothing has soured me on the Chinese market," Gelfond said.