It's been a bad year at the local multiplex. Ticket sales in this country are down 9% so far in 2011, and we're now heading into the telltale summer season.

Have moviegoers tired of the $7 tubs of popcorn? Is Tinseltown simply giving us crappy movies this year? Are narrower release windows -- where theatrical releases are hitting DVD and Netflix (Nasdaq: NFLX) sooner -- hurting attendance at cinematic screenings?

This will be an important summer for the premium exhibitors.

IMAX (Nasdaq: IMAX) had an amazing run last year, as box office receipts for its digitally remastered first-run flicks more than doubled. It was a welcome contrast to the roughly flat attendance for traditional operators.

This year got off to a bumpy start for IMAX, but results weren't going to match Avatar's phenomenal run during last year's first quarter.

The comparisons should get better from here -- and not just because IMAX has a record backlog of 283 screens yet to go up. We continue to see healthy trends for IMAX releases.

This past weekend's top grosser was Viacom's (NYSE: VIA) Super 8. IMAX screenings accounted for 11% of the overall domestic ticket sales, even though IMAX accounted for just 239 of the nearly 3,400 screens showing the retro crowd pleaser.

In other words, moviegoers continue to seek out the premium experiences at the movies, even if it means paying a few bucks more.

Morgan Joseph TriArtisan initiated coverage of 3-D outfitter RealD (NYSE: RLD) yesterday with a buy rating, a stock that took a beating when DreamWorks Animation's (NYSE: DWA) Kung Fu Panda 2 fared poorly in all formats.

The multiplex isn't dead. Netflix's success has come at the expense of Blockbuster and its fallen mom-and-pop disc shops. There has been disappointing consumer interest in 3-D televisions, even though they're willing to pay a premium to don the specs in a crowded theater.

The next few weeks will be critical, as some of the year's most anticipated cinematic releases will hit the big screen this summer. IMAX and RealD investors will be watching, too.

Can I at least get a refill on that popcorn tub for the ride home?


Is an IMAX or 3-D screening worth the premium? Please share your perspective in the comment box below.

Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of DreamWorks Animation SKG, Netflix, and IMAX, as well as buying puts in Netflix. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

Longtime Fool contributor Rick Munarriz is a movie buff, but he doesn't own shares in any of the stocks in this story, except for Netflix. He is also part of the Rule Breakers newsletter research team, seeking out tomorrow's ultimate growth stocks a day early.