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Imax, 3-D Drive Hollywood Box Office in 2015

  • Penelope Poulou

The box-office success of the latest Star Wars installment suggests Imax and 3-D films are here to stay, along with their heftier ticket prices.

More and more big-budget films are being shot with Imax cameras and presented on gigantic screens. Practically all of this year’s major movie productions were offered in both formats.

And though tickets at $15 apiece can become quite pricey for a family of four, opening weekends earnings showed, hands down, that moviegoers were willing to pay more for a special experience.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens, released December 18, generated a record-setting $529 million in global box-office sales for its opening weekend. And that doesn’t include theaters in China, where the film debuts on January 9.

Museum showing

It’s already showing at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Air and Space Museum in Washington and at its companion Udvar-Hazy Center in northern Virginia.

FILE - Movie-goers cheer and wave lightsabers before the first showing of the movie "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" at the TCL Chinese Theatre in Hollywood, California, Dec. 17, 2015.

FILE - Movie-goers cheer and wave lightsabers before the first showing of the movie "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" at the TCL Chinese Theatre in Hollywood, California, Dec. 17, 2015.

According to Zarth Bertsch, director of the institution’s theaters and entertainment, many moviegoers willingly paid $15 at the box office – and more for tickets purchased online – to watch the film on huge Imax screens and have an immersive experience.

Filmmakers "have created this incredible work that is so endless, engaging, of course it spans multiple generations," Bertsch said. "I think that Imax is particularly relevant with the 70 mm [film] experience."

Other strong performers

And it’s not just J.J. Abrams’ sci-fi blockbuster, which broke a sales record set earlier this year by Jurassic World.

The latest entry in Universal Pictures’ dinosaur franchise opened June 12 in Imax and 3-D formats. On its first weekend, it earned a breathtaking $524 million minimum in ticket sales worldwide.

Imax is synonymous with big-budget, high-action thrillers.

A studio invests in Imax and 3-D formats when it can predict huge profits, often for famous movie franchises. Movie lovers prefer to watch high-octane action flicks on huge screens instead of their TV sets.

FILE - Actor Chris Pratt, who plays raptor trainer Owen in "Jurassic World", poses at Universal Studios in Los Angeles, California, June 6, 2015.

FILE - Actor Chris Pratt, who plays raptor trainer Owen in "Jurassic World", poses at Universal Studios in Los Angeles, California, June 6, 2015.

Avengers: Age of Ultron, the latest entry in the superhero franchise, had grossed $1.4 billion in worldwide sales as of Sunday. It was released May 1.

The year’s top earners included other films released in both Imax and 3-D: Lionsgate’s final Hunger Games installment and Pixar’s Good Dinosaur and Inside Out.

The latter two attracted families with their witty scripts, wonderful colors and masterful animation.

But not all Imax films succeed. Ron Howard’s whale of a film – In the Heart of the Sea, about the 1820 sinking of the American whaling ship Essex – underperformed at the box office even though it inspired the great American novel, Moby Dick.

Critics shot it down as a tale without soul, a good example of how a story’s thrills can be lost in visual extravaganza and technical details.

Still, Imax and 3-D formats are expected to continue doing well in 2016, offering bigger and brighter stories on huge theater screens.

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