How Imax Sees Theaters Reopening and the Box Office Pressure on ‘Tenet’

“It’s the movie that’s supposed to lead people back to theaters,” Imax Entertainment president Megan Colligan says

While theater chains like AMC, Cinemark and Regal game plan on how to reopen this summer, Imax faces unique challenges when it comes to getting audiences back in the seats of its premium platform theaters.

Imax Corp., which partners with multiplexes, had its best box office and revenue year ever in 2019. Then the COVID-19 hit China, where the premium platform has a strong presence. Last month, the company reported it lost money in the first quarter of 2020, as revenue took a significant hit as a result of the pandemic.

As Imax Entertainment president Megan Colligan prepares to meet with exhibitors about sanitation and safety guidelines, TheWrap spoke with her about what it will take to draw audiences back, as well as her optimism around relaunching moviegoing and the uncertainty theaters face.

(This interview has been edited for length and clarity).

How does Imax think about audiences coming back to theaters, considering you rely on theater chains and are generally more expensive?
Yeah, we don’t set the guidelines, the cinemas do. Our exhibition partners, though, are being really cautious about the way they reopen. Everybody is trying to suss that out and figure out what this looks like. I think that people are super anxious to return to some semblance of their normal lives, so people are putting a lot of energy and thought into figuring it out. There’s a lot of creative energy flowing, but there’s no doubt that it’s a hyper-challenging time; there are safety issues, logistical issues, you name it.

The good news for us is Imax is a premium brand and people tend to think of our theaters as a different moviegoing experience. We spend an exorbitant amount of money to maintain our theaters. We know our theaters are in good shape, and I think people do gravitate to that.

There’s been a lot of conversation about changing behaviors and whether people will want to come back…
I do think people will be excited to get back into movie theaters. Some people need to be able to run on the beach again in order to feel OK, and some people need to be in a dark theater watching “Tenet.”

One thing I noticed over the course of the last few months, other than the news — which there’s a lot of right now — people have been talking about getting lost in movies. This could be a real moment for movies and for movie theaters.

Do you feel any pressure, especially with Christopher Nolan’s “Tenet” being the first big release?

“Tenet” was always going to be a big deal for us. We put a lot of energy into it and now it’s a double effort because it’s the movie that’s supposed to lead people back to theaters, that and “Mulan.” There’s just a lot of swirl around those two movies and what it means for theaters, for Imax, [and] what it means for movies.

That said, we’re not putting an insane amount of pressure on any of these movies, and I don’t think anybody should… One thing we have to be mindful of is, we have to give these theaters an opportunity to dip their toes in because it’s an unprecedented time. This is really just a thing that some people need to feel OK again, and we shouldn’t worry about whether a movie makes a billion dollars.

What have you all learned from your footprint in China?
We’re cautiously optimistic about what’s to come in China… They’re being really smart about how they reopen — life is starting to return to normal. The good news is China has all their huge profile New Year’s films that have yet to be released, and there are some summer movies still, and that’s aside from all the Hollywood films. So China has the ability to come back online and have some big movies on the way. They’re in a really unique position that way.

But it doesn’t completely behoove China to rush out openings ahead of the rest of the world, so I think they’re also looking to see how some things end up here in the U.S.

Trey Williams

Trey Williams

Film Reporter covering the biz • [email protected] • Twitter: @trey3williams


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