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‘Polar Express’ sets Imax record

/ Source: Reuters

Tom Hanks’ holiday movie “The Polar Express” has set an opening weekend record for a Hollywood film released in Imax Corp.’s giant-screen format, the company’s co-chief executive said Monday.

Brad Wechsler said the film grossed $2.1 million over the weekend in 59 North American Imax theaters for a total of $3 million in receipts since Wednesday.

“We’re extremely pleased in terms of its absolute performance in Imax. We’ve set a new weekend record for us ... we’ve had a ton of sold out shows and our advance sales to consumers have been great,” Wechsler told Reuters.

In the battle of computer-animated cartoons, “The Polar Express” pulled in at a distant No. 2 at North American weekend box offices after “The Incredibles,” according to studio estimates issued on Sunday.

“The Polar Express,” which reportedly cost $270 million to make and market, opened with a modest $23.5 million for the weekend, distributor Warner Bros. Pictures said. Since its release on Wednesday, it has grossed $30.8 million.

But Wechsler said the movie has outperformed other Hollywood films released simultaneously in the Imax format and regular theaters, including the “Harry Potter” and “Matrix” sequels.

Shares of Mississauga, Ontario-based Imax, which is run largely from New York, were up 10 cents, or about 1 percent, at $7.15 on Nasdaq on a volume of more than 300,000. In Toronto, the stock rose 25 Canadian cents to C$8.65.

“Polar Express opened to impressive Imax box office and is likely to have legs in Imax, in our view. We believe the films’ performance will make exhibitors and studios take more notice of Imax,” Soleil Research Associates analyst Marla Backer said in a note to clients.

“We reiterate our ’buy’ rating on Imax shares and expect them to respond positively to the ’Polar Express’ data.”

In recent years, Imax has made deals with Hollywood studios to release potential blockbusters in the Imax format at the same time they hit regular theaters. The strategy is designed to fuel its main business of leasing and servicing its big-screen movie theater systems.

Wechsler said the company has had “serious” talks with Hollywood studios about releasing four to six new movies in the large format. He would not disclose which titles, but said the upcoming “Star Wars” prequel and Peter Jackson’s “King Kong” remake are the types of movies Imax hopes to release.

The firm has not disclosed its financial arrangement with ”Polar Express” distributor Warner Bros., but said it ultimately benefits if the studio and theater chains make money.

“Obviously, we’re delighted with the financial performance of ’Polar’, and it should translate into the sale of more Imax systems and the growth of our network,” he said.

“There is almost always a participation in the box office. It’s a licensing transaction where we receive money up front, and then a minimum royalty, and then an overage depending on the performance of the theater.”