If you’ve got some extra bucks to spend and a desire to consume your entertainment in legitimately mass quantities, your local IMAX theater is probably showing Jurassic World, well, right about now. The box office juggernaut has benefitted from a release strategy that includes more than just a standard theater, 2D affair, but also 3D and IMAX offerings that bump up both the mayhem and the ticket price. Although IMAX film has been around since the seventies, it was long used for museum and science center installations or documentaries – speciality bits that don’t appeal to the masses but can have significant staying power.
By the nineties, that changed in a big (tee hee) way that was more in line with mainstream sensibilities, allowing concert films like The Rolling Stones: Live At the Max (1991), Jean-Jacques Annaud’s dramatic Wings of Courage (1995), and the animated Fantasia 2000 (2000) to hit IMAX screens for special engagements. Once the early aughts kicked into high gear, IMAX suddenly became a viable option for blockbuster features, even ones not specifically lensed for IMAX presentations. It’s a big, big new world for feature films.
Later this season and into the fall, other features, including Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation, Terminator: Genisys, and Ant-Man will get the IMAX treatment, unfurling on the massive screens right alongside their regular theatrical openings. New IMAX engagements have just been announced for both The Walk and Everest, both of which will arrive in September, thanks to a little release date tinkering. It’s a move that’s indicative of how important IMAX is starting to be for the box office, what with Everest actually moving its regular release date (from September 18 to September 25) in order to accommodate a September 18 release date for IMAX only, and with The Walk also staging a special early release just for IMAX theaters (on September 30).
This year will see IMAX releases for thirty-nine blockbuster films, from Crimson Peak to Pan, Fifty Shades of Grey to Furious 7. Just thirteen years ago, in 2002, there were only two IMAX feature offerings (Apollo 13 and Attack of the Clones). Even in 2005, there were just four. The market exploded quickly in 2011, when twenty-five films were available in the IMAX format. It was the first year that more than 16 such features hit the IMAX screen for general consumption.
IMAX releases have also played up the sense that they are something special, teasing audiences with events like a first look at the Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice trailer (only in IMAX theaters!) and earlier release dates (which Insterstellar did just last year). Sometimes, even just the cachet of “hey, this screen is really, really big” isn’t enough.
Next year already has a slew of IMAX releases lined up – and there will only be more to come, just think about today’s news about both The Walk and Everest, which are hitting IMAX screens in weeks and were only announced now – and the current tally stands at fifteen, including huge picks like Batman v Superman, Captain America: Civil War, Suicide Squad, and Star Wars: Rogue One. It’s not quite the norm yet, but it’s getting there – in a large way.