Is IMAX a Sustainable Business?

This IMAX (Nasdaq: IMAX  ) thing must be a fad, right? After all, RealD (NYSE: RLD  ) is in thousands of theaters, and competitors are always rumored to be getting into the big-screen business. As fellow fool Matthew Brown pointed out, IMAX screens have gotten smaller to fit in "regular" movie theaters, therefore diluting the experience of the gigantic screen. So when I started looking at IMAX after seeing Avatar, I figured market share would start dropping once the shine wore off.

The proxy I've been using is IMAX's share of opening weekend results. IMAX screens generally account for 2%-3% of screens on opening weekend and results for both IMAX screens and the general domestic box office are readily available from IMAX. Below I've shown IMAX screen's share of opening weekend box office for the last eight feature films, you might be surprised at how well IMAX is holding up.

Film

Opening Weekend Domestic Box Office

IMAX Opening Weekend

Percent of Total Opening Weekend

Avatar

$73.0 million

$9.5 million

13.0%

Alice In Wonderland

$116.2 million

$12.1 million

10.4%

How To Train Your Dragon

$43.7 million

$4.9 million

11.2%

Shrek Forever After

$70.8 million

$4.8 million

6.8%

Toy Story 3

$109 million

$8.4 million

7.7%

The Twilight Saga: Eclipse

$83.6 million

$9.0 million

10.8%

Inception

$62.8 million

$7.2 million

11.5%

Resident Evil: Afterlife

$26.6 million

$2.6 million

9.8%

Sources: IMAX press releases, BoxOfficeMojo.com.

What I see here is weakness in the kid-movie genre, which is understandable for a family going to the movies, and consistency in other feature films. With studios throwing their weight behind IMAX, the quality features should keep coming. Disney (NYSE: DIS  ) is making IMAX films under Walt Disney Pictures, Marvel Studios, and Pixar; Dreamworks Animation (Nasdaq: DWA  ) is making all of its movies in IMAX; and Time Warner's (NYSE: TWX  ) Warner Brothers signed a deal for up to 20 movies with IMAX through 2013.

But it isn't just studios that drive IMAX; theaters have to see the value and build IMAX theaters. Considering 85% of the theater signings in 2010 have come from existing customers, I would say theater companies have bought in.

For IMAX to continue performing well it needs to stay in the range of 9% to 11% share of opening weekend box office. If it can stay in that range and continue to expand internationally, I see big things for IMAX.

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Fool contributor Travis Hoium is long IMAX and DWA. Walt Disney is a Motley Fool Inside Value pick. IMAX is a Motley Fool Rule Breakers recommendation. Walt Disney and DreamWorks Animation SKG are Motley Fool Stock Advisor selections. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days.

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  • Report this Comment On September 23, 2010, at 2:24 PM, Gonzhouse wrote:

    IMAX growth needs to be evaluated between developed and developing worlds. In the developed world, as long as IMAX can differeniate the IMAX theatre experience from the best home-theatre experience, growth will continue, albeit at a less robust rate. In the developing world (i.e., China) IMAX will be a vastly better experience than anything at home due to the relative state of the average Chinese home theatre (as well as content available). This growth will be very high in the foreseeable future.

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