The No. 2 chain, AMC Entertainment, just joined other major exhibitors that say they won’t offer Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: The Green Legend on their IMAX screens next year when it simultaneously debuts on Netflix. “We license just the technology from IMAX,” AMC says. “Only AMC and [its parent company] Wanda decide what programming plays in our respective theatres. No one has approached us to license this made-for-video sequel in the U.S. or China, so one must assume the screens IMAX committed are in science centers and aquariums.”
The No. 1 exhibition chain, Regal, said this morning that it won’t show the movie. Carmike joined the fray, saying it’s “committed to an exclusive theatrical release” and therefore is “opposed to showing day and date releases at our entertainment complexes.” Cinemark also nixed the film. And Europe’s Cineworld, the continent’s top IMAX operator, joined the opposition: “We bring our customers the IMAX experience as the complete opposite of home entertainment, which can be found on all sorts of smaller, every-day screens like the TV or smartphones and devices. We believe that the theatrical experience and IMAX, as one of its cornerstones, should be kept apart from home entertainment”.
That could gum up plans to introduce additional films simultaneously on IMAX and Netflix. The companies plan for “several” more, but only if the August 28, 2015 experiment “works,” IMAX CEO Richard Gelfond tells me. “We didn’t define what ‘works’ means. But we’ll all know if it worked or not.”
Some of the theater chain responses might have been different if IMAX hadn’t let exhibitors make the choice. At several venues IMAX has a contractual right to determine what releases appear on its giant screens. But “we waived that in this circumstance because we felt it was such a novel approach that we only wanted to do it with exhibition partners who wanted to buy into it,” Gelfond says. IMAX discussed the release concept with about six domestic exhibitors as well as some international ones. “We didn’t say, ‘We’re thinking of doing Crouching Tiger with Netflix.’ We did say, ‘we’re thinking of doing a project that’s a simultaneous release. How do you feel about it?’ And we got mixed feedback. …We weren’t surprised by Regal’s point of view. They were one of the people that told us they were more cautious about the approach.”
The IMAX chief believes that critics of the deal should reconsider. “This movie is being released August 28. This year that was the worst box office weekend of the year, and Labor Day, the following weekend, isn’t much better. We would not have done this release if there were competitive Hollywood blockbusters at that time. In fact we helped to influence Netflix to release it at that time. The thought was, when you have a weak shoulder period, why not try something different?” He adds that it could benefit theaters by attracting audiences that will see trailers for coming attractions. “I just think the idea of a constant flow of good product, particularly in the shoulder period — whatever the source — is a good thing. But we’ll run a test and find out.”