Why Batman 3 Will Not Be Shot Fully in IMAX


Not a month goes by that we aren’t reminded that another Batman movie isn’t in the works. I’m sure it’s just as bad for director Christopher Nolan, who is probably trying his hardest right now to get the word out on Inception, his high-concept sci-fi movie slated for release next year. After directing his way to one of the biggest movies of all-time in The Dark Knight, Nolan has become person of interest numero uno for fanboys and fangirls across the web. Everyone wants to know: when is another Batman movie happening, what will the story be, and what characters will be involved?

Throwing aside the obviously ridiculousness of such rumors as Megan Fox as Catwoman (thanks, British tabloids) and Eddie Murphy as, well, any character, I would like to address a new rumor that has popped up over at Ain’t It Cool News. According to high-flying Headnerd Harry Knowles, an inside source has said that “the third chapter of Christopher Nolan’s Caped Crusader’s saga could very well be FULLY shot in IMAX, not IMAX Digital, but the beautiful, stunning IMAX that we saw pieces of The Dark Knight in.” Bad grammar and unnecessary use of caps aside, this is an interesting proposition. Fans who beheld The Dark Knight in IMAX know what I’m talking about here — the sequences shot in true IMAX were breathtaking.

And while I, like many of you, would love to see Nolan take IMAX to the full-length level, it just won’t happen. And I will tell you why…

1. There aren’t enough real IMAX venues to make it worth it. Sure, IMAX is great — but when it comes to making a heavy duty blockbuster movie, a studio is going to look for the biggest bang for its buck. Currently, that doesn’t necessarily apply to IMAX. As of June, there were just over 300 IMAX-capable venues in over 42 countries. There are over 29,000 screens in the United States alone. It is unknown (at least to Google) how much it costs to take IMAX film and downconvert for a 35mm projection system, but I doubt that it’s cheap. Therefore, the studio — in this case, Warner Bros. — would be required to shell out extra money just to put its movie in regular theaters. Not exactly the sort of move studios jump to make.

2. It is just too expensive. Estimates place the cost of production — including the time it takes to move cameras, build custom rigs, change reels, as well as the heightened cost of materials — in the range of 50-100% higher than that of standard film production. Those sequences we all enjoyed in 2008’s episode of the Batman saga could have cost upwards of 2x more than other sequences in the film. To shoot an entire movie in this fashion, even with cost-saving advancements and aggressive innovation, could still drive the film’s production north of $300 million. And despite the fact that The Dark Knight brought in almost $1 billion worldwide at the box office, it doesn’t make sense to push production costs on the next one that high. For WB, it is a simple decision: spend $300 million and hope you make that $1 billion again, bringing in $700 million in profit (marketing and other undisclosed costs aside). Or make a third movie for $185 million (the reported budget of TDK) and possibly bring in another $915 million in profit.


3. Box office success is not guaranteed. With The Dark Knight, there were other factors impacting its box office take, including the death of star Heath Ledger in the year leading up to the film’s release. Say what you want about how much it did or didn’t impact the numbers. From where I’m sitting, it did have an effect on the film’s success. People went out to see his epic final performance, a posthumous Oscar worthy performance. That will draw crowds. As well, there is a statistical trend working against a third movie — third movies traditionally don’t do as well as their predecessors. For example:

  • Terminator 3 cost $100 million more than T2, and made $50 million less.
  • Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End cost $75 million more than Dead Man’s Chest, and grossed $115 million less domestically.

There are obvious exceptions to this rule, including The Bourne Ultimatum (which added $50 million to the box office take of The Bourne Supremacy) and The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (which bested The Two Towers by $38 million). But both of these are incremental increases. And neither of these saw a major rise in production cost. Not to the tune of 50-100% more, that’s for sure. Put simply, the risk would be too high for Warner Bros. to sink all that money into IMAX.

4. The movie might not happen at all. Through all of this, I think we miss the most obvious points. There is no script, the director has not signed and there has been no official indication that a third Batman movie will happen anytime soon. Sure, it is easy to assume that Warner Bros. will want to make another film and capitalize on the heat generated from The Dark Knight, but that doesn’t mean they will be able to get Chris Nolan back on the horse. He has said time and time again that the story needs to be there. What if it is never there? And if the movie never happens, it can’t be in full IMAX then, can it? I know it’s semantics, but I like to reinforce my arguments — especially when I’m clearly right.

Don’t get me wrong, kids, I’m with you. I would love to see a big, beautiful IMAX explosion for a third Batman movie as much as any of you. However, right now it is little more than a pipe dream. The way I see it, there is too much risk in such a venture. And in this economy, I doubt Warner Bros. would be willing to spend the extra money on IMAX when they can have Christopher Nolan spend the same amount of money that he did on TDK and likely see similar profit margins. Could they spring for a few more minutes of IMAX? Sure. Will they spring for 2.5+ hours of IMAX? Not likely. It all comes down to simple financial risk assessment.

Feel free to spread your own opinion on the matter in the comment section below…

Neil Miller is the Founder and Publisher of Film School Rejects. For almost a decade, he has been talking movies on television, the radio, and the Internet. As of yet, no one has stopped him.

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