For IMAX, scheduling is everything. There are only so many IMAX screens in the world, so the company often has to choose between competing titles. If they get it right? Box office bonanza. If they get it wrong though, IMAX miss out on a lot of potential revenue.
Andy Muschietti's adaptation of Stephen King's IT took the world by surprise this September. The film was expected to gross between $50-60 million in its opening weekend, but instead achieved a remarkable $189 million! IT had the second highest grossing opening weekend for an R-rated movie, easily beating Deadpool's $132 million. The film's box office performance left fans and critics alike staggered.
Incredibly, it looks as though IMAX almost missed out on this box office tsunami though. The reason? They'd already booked Marvel's Inhumans...
A Look Behind The Curtains
IMAX's deal with Marvel Television was ground-breaking. For the first time, IMAX would co-fund filming of a TV series and air the first two episodes in IMAX cinemas worldwide. The episodes were filmed with special IMAX cameras, ensuring stunning panoramic shots, while also providing Marvel Television with the opportunity to create special effects optimized for the big-screen.
IMAX scheduled the first two episodes to be released over the Labor Day weekend, traditionally a weak performer for IMAX cinemas. Unfortunately, the release was hampered by poor critical responses, while fans mocked character designs and CGI. In spite of the strong negative criticism though, Inhumans actually performed fairly well; the first two episodes grossed $2.6 million worldwide. That's actually better than could be expected, especially when you consider that TV shows don't typically gross well at cinemas, not to mention that Inhumans was only showing at a limited number of IMAX screens too.
If this had been a normal September, we'd have been expecting #Inhumans to air for at least two weeks before being pulled from IMAX screens. Instead though, this was a year in which IMAX saw the juggernaut success of It bearing down on them. CEO Rich Gelfond openly admitted that his team had to change plans:
“We were playing a September fill-in that we had helped create, which was the first two episodes of Marvel’s ‘Inhumans,’ an ABC series. “[‘Inhumans’] did fine in its first weekend, [making] two-and-a-half million dollars. But when you saw a train like that coming down the tracks in ‘It,’ it made a lot of sense to regroup. And we did that with very little marketing and very little time to get in it. We made very nice revenues."
The decision paid off. By all accounts, It has already netted IMAX over $10 million.
An Unpredictable Year
The remarkable box office success of It has to be set against the backdrop of a poor summer for the film industry. It's clearly becoming harder for industry figures to predict box office performance, particularly as many major movies underperformed this year. For example, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales grossed only $172 million in the domestic box office!
IT has shown that the public can surprise the industry in other ways too. The film has broken conventional wisdom for horror movies, leaving pundits absolutely staggered at its success. Over on Forbes, Scott Mendelson actually feels It could break $300 million in the domestic box office:
"I know how insane it is to argue that an R-rated horror movie has a shot at $300m domestic, but thus far it's still playing in the big leagues in terms of day-to-day grosses. Its six-day total is right between Harry Potter and the Order the Phoenix ($150m) and Iron Man 2 ($153m), and those films earned just over/under $300m domestic by the time they wrapped up."
Fortunately for IMAX, the company recently converted to an automatic DMR to convert films. They also streamlined their distribution process, helping the IMAX versions to reach cinemas at speed. IMAX are also in the early stages of converting to a digital process, which means that they don't have to ship out physical copies. That means IMAX can respond swiftly to changing tastes — and, when a success story like It comes along, they can position themselves to reap the rewards.
2017 has been a strange year in terms of box office takings. Against this backdrop, It has proved to be a remarkable — and much-needed — success story. It's undeniable that IMAX made the right call in pulling #Marvel's Inhumans out of many theaters, instead focusing on It.