IMAX is heading to this year’s CinemaCon on the back of strong growth. Jeremy Kay reports.

IMAX has been expanding steadily in recent years, cementing relationships with the Hollywood studios to the extent that the day-and-date giant screen release of a tentpole film has become part of the landscape.

However, the company is keeping its eye on the bigger picture. It has been quick to nurture local ties and is building a local-language business, recently having expanded its deal with India’s Yash Raj Films to include three Bollywood films.

This, together with the ongoing customised international roll-out of Hollywood blockbusters, speaks volumes about IMAX’s acute sensitivity to the demands of the global market.

“Box office for the industry in 2012 was up something like 5%-6% globally, whereas our number went up 50%,” says IMAX Entertainment chairman and president Greg Foster. IMAX operates more than 600 theatres and achieved $651m global box office in 2012.

As Foster puts it, IMAX is a global business that now programmes for 53 countries. Should prior scheduling commitments preclude IMAX from screening a studio tentpole day-and-date in a territory or region, IMAX will make sure those regions eventually get to see the film on its giant screens.

“One of the things that sets IMAX apart is our extremely close relationships with studios and film-makers,” says Foster. “We take these partnerships very seriously and are adamant about honouring the programming commitments we make. The rapid expansion of our international theatre network has provided us with a greater ability to tailor IMAX programming to specific regions or countries, opening up opportunities to incorporate a wider selection of both Hollywood and local-language films into our slate.”

Foster continues: “In 2011 we released two Hollywood movies [Tangled and Cowboys & Aliens, both internationally] that we were not able to release domestically because dates conflicted and we did $5m. Last year we did eight of these movies and we did almost $40m and this year we will do more than that.”

These eight films did not play on IMAX in North America due to prior scheduling commitments but did play internationally, and included Life Of Pi, Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted and the Twilight finale.

Foster credits his colleague Anthony Vogels, IMAX vice-president of international film development, with building the company’s fast-growing local language business. IMAX has enjoyed recent success with Journey To The West from Stephen Chow and Jackie Chan’s CZ12, both from China.

“We announced our first Indian movie [Dhoom 3], which is coming out this year. We announced our first Japanese movie Dragon Ball Z: Battle Of Gods coming out in March and our first Russian movie Stalingrad, which opens in October.”

There will be between 35-37 films released worldwide on IMAX this year. For the first time ever, there is a strong likelihood that the company’s international box office will overtake its North American grosses. Hollywood and the global business will be watching.