IMAX goes big by more than doubling its number of European screens

IMAX, the massive cinema screens that traditionally dwarf those found in standard cinemas, are about to get a lot more common in Europe. 

The development comes thanks to a new deal with AMC, the company which owns many of the largest cinema chains in Europe, including Odeon in the UK. 

The deal means that in the coming years the amount of IMAX screens will increase by 25 from 22 today to a total of 47 in the future. Although an exact timescale was not given, the first three of the cinemas, in Germany, Norway and Italy are already under construction, and IMAX CEO Rich Gelfond expects all of the new to appear within the next 3 years. 

Early stages

Since the deal continues to be early in its planning stages, Gelfond was unable to commit to an exact number, but he expected around 10 of these screens to be placed in the UK. 

The new screens will be placed in either new locations, or existing cinemas which currently don’t have IMAX screens. AMC CEO Adam Aron says that he would not want cinemas to be in the position of having two IMAX screens. 

Gelfond was also unable to say for certain which technologies the new screens would use because of how early the deal is, but said that “I think at the moment they’re xenon digital projectors because our laser solution is only economical on the very large screens.”

The new screens will also be making use of IMAX’s 12 channel surround sound system which adds four overhead speakers as well as two additional side speakers, to create a similar effect to Dolby’s Atmos' 3D surround sound. 

The IMAX of V

IMAX has also quietly been nurturing a virtual reality initiative that has already launched in Los Angeles, and will soon be coming to New York and Manchester. These plans came about, according to Gelfond, in part because so many other companies were claiming to be creating the ‘IMAX of VR.’ 

“We’ve been looking for a long time at how to take this big brand and find other places to put it and we’ve explored a lot of things. One of the most interesting things was that everybody would say to me, ‘We’re inventing the IMAX of virtual reality,’” says Gelfond, “After studying a lot of businesses I said ‘Why doesn’t IMAX do the IMAX of virtual reality?’”

However, IMAX did not announce any expansion to its VR ambitions in the UK, which so far are limited to a planned single location in Manchester. There were a couple of reasons for this, one of them being cultural. The existing plans for the VR experiences involve them being placed in cinema lobbies, which are much bigger in the US than in the UK and Europe. This means that they can be installed in the US at a much lower cost. 

The second reason is that with virtual reality being so early, Gelfond said that IMAX was wary of investing in VR because of how early all the hardware is, and that the company doesn’t want to spend a lot of money on headsets that are going to become outdated in a short couple of years. 

For now, the company is going ahead with its gradual rollout of VR experiences, which are aimed at getting Millennials into cinemas. The company is hoping to have two or three new experiences produced a year. 

According to Gelfond, “movie attendance by Millennials has not been as strong as other segments of the audience, and we think that bringing in a fun, interactive experience will help get them off the couch, and not get them off the couch to go to the mall, but get them off the couch to go to the movies.” 

For the next three years these will be based on a Warner Bros film, the first two being Justice League and Aquaman. 

Away from tablets towards the big screen

Millennials, as a generation, don’t go to the cinema as much as their parents and grandparents did, and both IMAX and AMC are aware that they have to work hard to get people watching films on the big screen rather than on their tablets. 

Part of this effort involves simply making cinemas a more pleasant environment to be in. AMC is planning on spending big in the UK to renovate its Odeon cinemas, which even its CEO admits are looking a little tired. 

This renovation is expected to include everything from a cinema’s seats, to its food and drink. 

But more importantly, AMC and IMAX are hoping that combining VR outside the screens with better audio visual technology inside the screen will have what it takes to bring a new generation into the cinema. Television technology is now better than ever, but nobody wants the idea of watching movies outside of the home to die off entirely.