IMAX CEO Denies Reports that Hollywood Movies Are Stumbling in China

Richard Gelfond says it's media hyperbole and the issue is scheduling

IMAX Corp. Chief Executive Officer Richard Gelfond dismissed reports that Hollywood movies are losing ground in China as media hyperbole. 

On a conference call with analysts Thursday, the big-screen company chief likened it to stories that might appear after a tornado movie is a hit at the box office postulating the time is ripe for a deluge of movies about twisters. 

The issue, he argued, is not that the Chinese are sick of tentpole pictures or that the Chinese government's protectionist policies have crippled foreign films. It's simply a matter of scheduling.

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"It’s a content-mix issue," Gelfond concluded.

Along with his top deputy, IMAX Entertainment CEO Greg Foster, he said that a steady stream of American movies are due to hit the Chinese box office over the coming weeks — pictures like "Pacific Rim," "After Earth" and "Man of Steel."

That influx of tentpole productions should lift foreign film receipts in the People's Republic, he claimed.

It better. If numbers don't improve, Hollywood will experience negative growth in China for the first time in recent history.

Also read: Hollywood Movies Losing Out to Chinese Films in a Big Way

Overall, China's box office was up 36.2 percent, topping out at roughly $1.7 billion, according to data from China's State Administration of Radio, Film and Television. However, that growth is largely attributable to domestic productions such as "Journey to the West: Conquering the Demons” and "So Young."

The success of those films has increased the Chinese film industry's box office revenue by 144 percent to roughly $1.1 billion over the period.

Of the top highest grossing films in the country during the first six months of the year, only one, "Iron Man 3," was from the United States. During that time, foreign films made $674.3 million at the Chinese box office, a 21.3 percent decline from the same period the previous year.

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Foster said that IMAX is well-positioned whether or not foreign films experience a rebound in the Chinese market place, noting that the company releases plenty of Chinese films on its screens.

"We’re covered on the Hollywood side, and we’re covered on the local language side," Foster said.

China is seen as key to IMAX's growth and few U.S.-based companies have done a more effective job of breaking into the market. On Wednesday, IMAX announced it had extended its partnership with Asia's largest theater chain, Wanda Cinema Line, and plans to build anywhere from 40 to 120 new large-format venues in China.

Also read: Hollywood's Trouble With China? It Has All the Leverage

If Wanda exercises its option for all of those theaters, Gelfond noted that IMAX could eventually have 400 screens in China. That's more than the 362 IMAX screens currently in operation in the United States.