Imax and Imax China Holding have entered a deal with Wanda Cinema Line to add 150 theaters throughout China over a six-year period. Construction will begin in 2017 with 110 cinemas expected to be completed by 2020 and the rest by 2022. This will take Wanda’s Imax footprint to 360 in a market that is a rabid consumer of the format. The Middle Kingdom generates about a third of Imax’s global box office sales.
Imax and Wanda have been in business together since 2007 when China’s largest exhibitor opened its first large-format theater in Dongguan. Wanda Cinema currently operates more than 160 Imax theaters.
Imax CEO Richard Gelfond calls the deal “a landmark development” in the company’s history, particularly as “signings lead to installs, higher box office and ultimately more revenue.” Wanda and Imax now operate under a revenue-sharing model that is “more sustainable,” Gelfond added, which “opens new opportunities to jointly release critically acclaimed local-language films.”
While Imax works closely with the Hollywood studios to release their films in the Chinese market, the company has also dived deep into local-language. With Wanda as partner, it has collaborated on such titles as Man Of Tai Chi, Go Away Mr Tumor and last year’s Mojin: The Lost Legend which became Imax’s highest-grossing local-language pic ever. Smartly, the company plans to increase the number of local-language pics it releases in China and recently earmarked $50M for Mandarin-language productions under the Imax China Film Fund with partner China Media Capital.
Already released in the format this summer have been Wanda’s For A Few Bullets, Edko’s Cold War 2 and Jackie Chan-starrer Skiptrace which crossed $100M in local box office over the weekend. This coming weekend, Imax will release the 3D adventure Time Raiders starring Star Wars ambassador Lu Han. Discussions are ongoing regarding next year’s Journey To The West II, the follow-up to Stephen Chow’s mega-hit that’s directed by Tsui Hark.
John Zeng, President of Wanda Cinema Line, today noted the key role the Imax-Wanda partnership played in the huge results on Warcraft, from Wanda-owned Legendary, which smashed Imax China’s first-day box office record, and set new company benchmarks for midnights and presales.
Other English-language pics on deck over the coming months are Paramount/Skydance’s Star Trek Beyond, Warner Bros’ Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them, Universal’s Jason Bourne, Legendary/Universal’s The Great Wall and Disney/Marvel’s Doctor Strange.
The deal announced today follows another 2013 agreement between the companies under which Wanda committed to deploy 120 new theaters by 2020. That pact is running well ahead of schedule with near total completion expected by the end of 2016. As of June 30, 2016, Imax had 335 theaters in China, up from 250 at the same time in 2015.