Even as theater chains promised not to show the movie that his company had just partnered on, IMAX CEO Richard Gelfond argued that he was trying to help them by teaming with The Weinstein Company and Netflix on a day-and-date release for a “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” sequel next year.
“The hand that feeds us is filmmakers and studios and content providers,” the executive told TheWrap on Tuesday. “Theaters are our partners, and by bringing additional content to the market, I think it helps the market and I think it’s helping them. I understand change isn’t always the easiest thing in the world, it’s easier to stick with the status quo, but on the other hand, if you don’t try to change you get stuck in a certain place. We made our reputation by innovating.”
By Tuesday afternoon, the nation’s biggest theater chains — AMC, Regal, Cinemark and Carmike — announced that they would not carry the “Crouching Tiger” sequel, which will be co-produced by TWC and Netflix, and begin streaming on August 28, 2015, the same day it is scheduled to hit theaters. Cineworld, Europe’s number two theater chain and top IMAX operator, similarly announced its refusal to participate.
IMAX holds out hope that at least some theaters using its technology will run the film in the United States, but Gelfond admitted that they expected many would balk, even though the film will be released on what is traditionally the slowest weekend of the year.
Still, the real prize for the company is still in play: China, where IMAX has over 200 screens and counting.
“Remember, we’re a global company, 60 percent of our revenues are from international sources,” he said. “In China, there is no Netflix, so this can play in all our theaters in China if it gets through the quota. That could be 200 theaters in China alone. We think much more globally. … We have that kind of international presence.”
Studios and exhibitors are looking more toward China as a box office savior, while back in the United States, streaming media has become the main focus of growth. IMAX, however, is by its nature not much of a player in that market, which leaves it to push innovations in other directions in hopes of keeping the theater audience engaged.
“I don’t think [streaming] is the future of the business, I think it’s a facet, mostly on mobile but somewhat on larger screen, and I think people will always go to movies,” Gelfond said. “I think with new technology like 3D, laser projection and virtual reality, the movie experience will always continue to evolve and have a place in the landscape. We’re experimenting with, can they exist side by side, can theaters benefit for some of the content created for other purposes? We’ll find out.
“This is a test, and I can’t tell you for sure that it’s going to work,” he added, “but I can tell you for sure that attempting to innovate is a good idea because as technology changes, viewers change, and we have to figure out what does or doesn’t work.”