Imax has swung to a quarterly profit as Hollywood tentpoles like Spider Man: No Way Home — which was shot using the giant-screen company’s proprietary cameras and featured its expanded aspect ratio — and Dune played on its big screens.
Imax said global box office of $277 million during the latest quarter rose 15 percent, topping $244.46 million in the fourth quarter of 2019, which was the company’s highest-grossing year ever. The large-format exhibitor also grew global box office by 146 percent year-over-year to $638 million for full-year 2021.
On Wednesday, Imax reported earnings attributable to shareholders of $10.1 million, compared to a year-earlier loss of $21.2 million, and adjusted earnings per share at 31 cents, compared to a 21 cent per-share loss in 2019. Shares in Imax were up by $1.77, or 9 percent, to $21.25 in after-hour trading as the company pitched its latest fourth quarter as meeting or surpassing its pre-pandemic form across a number of key metrics, including quarterly revenue, operating income and earnings per share.
“We returned to positive adjusted earnings per share of 31 cents,” Gelfond told analysts during an after-market conference call as Imax marked its first profitable quarter in per-share earnings since COVID-19-era shutdowns began in early 2020.
Overall quarterly revenue was $108.6 million, compared to a year-earlier $56 million, when North American movie theaters were operating at a reduced capacity amid the pandemic. Other movies to screen in Imax theaters during the latest quarter to Dec. 31, 2021, include No Time to Die; The Battle at Lake Changjin, a war epic and local-language title; and Chloé Zhao’s Eternals, based on the Marvel comics by Jack Kirby.
The giant-screen exhibitor said its global market share reached a record 3 percent in full-year 2021, up from 2.6 percent for the same period of pre-pandemic 2019, and peaked at 3.5 percent globally and 5.6 percent domestically in the most recent fourth quarter.
“In the fourth quarter alone, Imax turned in a dominating performance at the global box office, launched a major streaming partnership with Disney+, and created a series of exclusive events connecting theatrical and streaming in a way that few brands can,” Imax CEO Richard Gelfond said in a statement ahead of the analyst call.
He told analysts Imax is eyeing a greater share going forward of the global local-language film market. “In China and Japan, we continue to embed even deeper in the local filmmaking ecosystems, from putting our technology in the hands of local filmmakers to becoming an important partner for anime blockbusters in Japan,” Gelfond said as a host of upcoming Chinese blockbusters are filmed with Imax cameras, including the 2022 summer tentpole Mozart From Space.
“For the last two years, China has been the biggest box office market in the world. And for the right movies, Chinese audiences really want to come out,” he added in response to a question about the Chinese film market as it grapples with the impact of the pandemic.
Imax has been diversifying away from movie tentpoles to create around its global theater network a technology platform to “eventize” content as live events and other fan experiences. On Dec. 9, the company partnered with Amazon Music to stream a Kanye West and Drake concert live to 36 Imax theaters in North America.
And on Dec. 5, Imax partnered with Apple and A24 for an exclusive one-day play of The Tragedy of Macbeth, followed by a Q&A with director Joel Coen and Frances McDormand streamed live to 17 giant-screen theaters. A day later, that was followed by Imax partnering with Disney to host a screening of West Side Story, followed by a Q&A with Steven Spielberg and the cast in a giant-screen theater in AMC Century City that was livestreamed to select Imax theaters.
Elsewhere, Disney+ in November 2021 released 13 Marvel films with Imax Enhanced, a screening feature that gives users an expanded aspect ratio of 1:90:1, allowing for more action to be seen onscreen.
“This ignites a virtuous cycle. We are one of the only global platforms that can eventize content throughout the entirety of its lifecycle,” Gelfond told analysts as Imax aims to create more exclusive live events and experiences beyond tentpoles with a growing list of new partners, including streaming platforms, games creators and others.
He added that 79 Imax theaters are currently wired for the premier technology platform as it grows. “We think over time it could be a significant revenue and earnings contributor,” Gelfond forecast as Imax in the short term expects to do a major diversified content event every financial quarter and experiments on ticket price points.
On the live activations platform, Imax will either distribute third-party content, much as it does with tentpoles, or get involved in the content production by renting out proprietary cameras, for example, for potentially better economics, Gelfond added.