Imax Predicts Return To Pre-Pandemic Box Office This Year On China Recovery, Strong Film Slate; Q4 Sales, Profit Dip


Imax said today it expects to return to its pre-pandemic gross box office level of $1.1 billion in 2023, even as it reported revenue of $98 million for last year’s fourth quarter, down 10% from the year before.

Earnings per share fell to 19 cents from 31 cents.

CEO Rich Gelfond attributed the dip to the Chinese box office, which is critical to Imax and was still in recovery mode until late last year. Avatar: The Way of Water opened mid-December day-and-date in China, where the market has surged since, he said, “with a 180-degree turn in just a few months.” The film, the highest grossing first-run Imax release of all time with more than $253 million, basically re-opened and jumpstarted the Chinese market, Gelfond said during a conference call.

The company also had a strong $61 million in local language box office during the Chinese New Year holiday, up 72% over 2022. That segment made up 17% of total revenue for last year and is likely to be higher with more releases this year, Gelfond said.

For the full year 2022, Imax said it captured its largest share ever of both the global (3.3%) and domestic (4.4%) box office. Its global box office rose 33% year-on-year to $850 million.        

In 2023 so far, Ant-Man & The Wasp: Quantumania delivered $12.2M in Imax box office for the President’s four-day weekend — 10% of the overall North America gross.

The company has multi-system agreements for seven new locations in Japan and ten in Indonesia this year.

Imax stock has rallied this year as it seems clear the company is set to gain from on ongoing shift toward premium theatrical amenities and alternative content post-pandemic. Analyst Alicia Reese of Wedbush Securities recently added Imax to the firm’s investment Best Ideas List, calling it “the best way to play the theatrical rebound in 2023.”

“The first ‘Avatar’ took Imax to a new level, and we are seeing early signs that its sequel will help drive growth across our business,” said Gelfond. The film is the company’s “highest grossing release ever in nearly 50 international markets, many of which are underrepresented with Imax systems and among those we’ve identified for strategic expansion. Coupled with a strong, consistent Hollywood slate and our expanding local language content portfolio in priority markets, we see a clear opportunity to further expand and diversify our global footprint this year.”

With Avatar and Ant-Man both gaining day-and-date China releases “and Chinese-made blockbusters like ‘The Wandering Earth 2’ and ‘Full River Red’ drawing big audiences, China is fast reasserting itself as one of the world’s biggest moviegoing markets,” he said.

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