The 10-day haul of RMB 76.3 million (USD $42 million) of RoboCop in China spells major challenge for Imax, as it affirms the arrival of its biggest potential rival on the large format (LF) and 3D scene in China and possibly beyond.
Much like Robocop vs. Enforcement Droid Series 209 in the original film, this will be an un-even match where the largest firepower will not necessarily win out over the smaller new rival. As LA Times notes, “Jose Padillha’s remake may yield more in China than it has in the U.S. and Canada, where it has made $54 million since its mid-February release.” A large portion of this comes from the cinemas showing it in 3D (the only country in the world to show it this way) and on large format screen – though crucially not Imax screens but ones from China Film Giant Screen (CFGS).
In order to understand the challenge that CFGS poses to Imax it is important to know a bit about the history of LF film and cinema. The format was effectively invented by Canada’s Imax and showcased at the 1970 Osaka Expo. Because of the inherent limitations of 70mm films, feature films were not practical, which is why it tended to focus on documentaries about Africa or Space Station for school classes and museum visitors. Imax’s only real competitor during this time was Iwerks Entertainment, though the latter was mainly focusing on specialty venues and virtual reality theatres.
In 2001 Imax was nearly wiped out by the spate of Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection filings from US cinema chains that saw long-term deals with the Canadian firm cancelled. Imax slowly re-built itself with a focus on feature films and courting Hollywood for first-run releases converted for the LF screen using the in-house DMR process.
Imax struck gold with Polar Express in 3D and soon started focusing more on multiplexes while rolling out new digital projection technology that did away with the 70mm limitations. Because many cinema chains objected to Imax’s terms, they created own-brand LF screens, with names such as Cinemark’s XD, Regal’s RPX, AMC’s ETX, Carmike Cinemas’ BigD and VueXtreme. 3D vendor RealD also tried creating a unifying brand with the Luxe. However, none have created the same inelastic demand at a premium pricing point that Imax achieved. Then along came CFGS.
CFGS is challenging Imax on two fronts with the RoboCop release. The first is the 2D-to-3D conversion, which was undertaken in-house by Cubic Pictures for a China-only 3D release.