Gravity just became IMAX‘s highest-grossing second weekend title ever, but French moviegoers won’t get to see it in the format when the Warner Bros hit bows in France on October 23rd. That’s because Amélie helmer Jean-Pierre Jeunet‘s 3D The Young And Prodigious T.S. Spivet has staked out the only slots at the country’s five IMAX locations. Spivet comes out on October 16th, a week before Gravity, and is expected to stay in place until Thor: The Dark World moves in on October 30th. So how did a film that lends itself so completely to the IMAX experience find itself without a window in France?
Gaumont, the studio behind Jeunet’s English-language Spivet, has a deal with IMAX for the film to be released locally and internationally in its immersive format. The pact follows IMAX’s collaboration with Pathé’s 2012 French comedy Houba! On The Trail Of The Marsupilami, as the company looks to work increasingly with local filmmakers. Spivet initially had an October 23rd release – a similar date to Jeunet’s last two films, Micmacs and A Very Long Engagement, which coincidentally were released by Warner Bros France in 2009 and 2004, respectively. Warner Bros for its part had originally been eyeing a November 6th Gravity release in France, but in February this year moved onto October 23rd. Spivet then also moved, to October 16th. Because IMAX was committed to Spivet, and doesn’t split screens in France, Gravity was effectively squeezed out. Ultimately, I’m told Warner Bros preferred sticking to its planned release strategy rather than co-opt it for just the five IMAX screens. (The latter half of October in France is hotly-contested release real estate in any format. Among the recent hits to lay claim, box office and/or prestige-wise, are Asterix & Obelix: God Save Britannia, Amour, The Artist, Paranormal Activity 2 & 3, The Adventures Of Tintin and Little White Lies.)
IMAX’s Andrew Cripps told me today, “It’s unfortunate that the dates don’t coincide, but that’s the world of international releasing.” He noted, “We made a commitment to the French filmmakers and we’re standing by that commitment. We’re very proud of it.” France’s five IMAX screens are all housed in multiplexes that are operated and programmed by the Gaumont Pathé circuit, but Cripps said that had no bearing on its Spivet deal with Gaumont. “We look for films we think will play well in the IMAX network. The fact that this was shot in 3D, we think it will be superb.” But another person close to the situation says, “It’s a shame… Spivet is a very good film, but I’m not sure people are going to rush to see it” in IMAX.
Release date changes are a frequent occurence, so to avoid this kind of snafu in the future (although who knows when somebody will make the next movie that fits so hand-in-glove with the IMAX experience as does Gravity), IMAX may need to grow to please the local market, a French industry exec suggests. “Strategically, IMAX wants to be able to do local films. But they also want studio films. They can’t have everything.” Cripps for his part says the company is “always in discussions” about increasing its footprint.
I hear there’s a very slight chance Gravity could get a special IMAX release after the Thor sequel’s run, but for now its French strategy is to release next week on 400 screens, 80% of which will be 3D, and go wider if things go well. It’s expected that it will open strongly in big and medium-sized cities and may need a few days for word-of-mouth to grow in smaller provincial areas. Too bad the Eurostar doesn’t pull into London’s Waterloo Station anymore: The BFI IMAX is just down the road, and it’s playing Gravity in a few weeks. Might have made for a nice cross-Channel promotion.