As an investment, IMAX (NASDAQ:IMAX) has generally not lived up to the size of its giant wraparound movie screens. The company has lacked a critical mass precisely because of its size, even though Hollywood movies were supposed to fuel its growth and ignite its stock. Well, the time may have finally come for investors to think about walking up to this company's ticket window.

What has changed? In part, today's announcement that General Electric's (NYSE:GE) Commercial Finance unit will help future IMAX site hosts with their leases, a move that will help the movie company accelerate the growth of its commercial venues. This is great news because IMAX has also recently introduced its MPX format -- multiplex-sized yet still state-of-the-art technology. The combination of GE financing options and a high-tech format that is oriented toward traditional theater operators should be a winning strategy.

It also helps that IMAX is finally proving to be the place to exhibit tent-pole movies. The recently released 2-D movie Batman Begins from Time Warner's (NYSE:TWX) Warner Bros. grossed a record $14.5 million on IMAX screens in nine weeks, breaking the record that The Matrix Reloaded took 22 weeks to reach for the company in 2003. And with the new Harry Potter movie coming out in November, that record could fall, especially if the movie is shown on more than the 72 screens used for Batman.

If that doesn't seem like a lot of screens, it isn't -- relatively speaking. Regal Entertainment (NYSE:RGC), the largest motion picture exhibitor in the world, has 6,605 screens in 579 locations and recently made a small 230 screen-acquisition. IMAX, in comparison, stands at only 259 affiliated theaters in 36 countries. And only 50% of those screens are in commercial venues -- the rest are in museums, planetariums, and the like. But the GE deal and the MPX format could help change that situation and broaden IMAX's reach.

Selling IMAX systems is still the heart and soul of this company. Last quarter, systems accounted for 65.7% of sales and almost all of the earnings. The films division, 17.2% of sales, contributed a paltry $308,000 to operating income -- but that will change as commercial films fill more theaters and when the Batman results hit the books. IMAX is also bringing back last year's Christmas success, the 3-D version of Polar Express. It generated $45 million on its first pass through IMAX theaters, and with the development costs already expensed, it could be highly profitable again.

Back in 2003, IMAX's stock rocketed to $10.40 in advance of another Matrix installment, The Matrix Revolutions. Here in 2005, with the Matrix hype long over, the stock has fallen by 8.7% and it sitting at around $9.50 a share. But analysts expect the company to compound earnings at 20% a year annual rate for the next five years -- about double the expected growth rate for the S&P 500. That seems reasonable now that IMAX appears to finally be hitting critical mass.

While traditional theaters are suffering through their third straight year of declining attendance, IMAX's commercial theaters are thriving. Customers seem willing to shell out the money for the big screen and the fantastic sound that IMAX offers. Maybe it's the movie experience we've all been waiting for, with shareholders in IMAX finally coming out as giants.

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Fool contributor W.D. Crotty does not own shares in any of the companies mentioned. Click here to see The Motley Fool's disclosure policy.