IMAX CEO says blockbuster movies are key to bringing audiences back to theaters
CEO Rich Gelfond says people who understand content will be winners.
rich. Great to see you again to talk about imax and the business of movies. You know everybody's talking about a comeback in movie going because of the success of the box office of that movie. A quiet place part two of the Memorial Day weekend. And I know it was showing in hundreds of imax theaters as well. So do you think that optimism about this movie means that going back to movie theaters is really making a comeback? Yeah. Suzy we have a very unique perspective because we're a global business. Over two thirds of our revenues are outside of north America. So we've seen the comeback for the last six months uh in places like china year over year um were up significantly. Our december of 20 was up 28% from the year before chinese new Year was up 30% from the record year in 2019. Japan is setting records. So the U. S. Is a little bit behind the cycle in terms of reopening. But we've seen it reopened strong everywhere else and expect the same thing in north America. So do you think that the success of the box office in those countries that you mentioned like china and Japan is a litmus test of what we might be expecting here in the US. Absolutely. I mean I think where people feel safe and it is safe to go to the movies, people are coming back in record numbers. I don't think it's a light switch. I don't think you switch it on and the droves come in. I think it's a little bit more like a faucet and that's what everywhere else in the world and I'm sure we'll see that here. But what do you think it's going to take to get box office sales in the US back to those pre pandemic levels? I think it's going to take blockbuster movies. And unfortunately because it took a while to come out of the pandemic and different states were slower than others, including California in Los Angeles where the studios were located, they delayed a lot of their top blockbusters until starting to come now. So Black Widows coming soon later in the year is Bond Dune. I think once those blockbuster movies start to come, you'll start to see those blockbuster numbers again. You mentioned a couple of the new releases that will be coming out over the next couple of months. Can you single out the ones that you think will have the strongest impact and create excitement for movie goers to actually come back to the theaters that they'll say it's worth it to go see the movies. Which ones would you single up the few that I would say for sure are the new Bond movie? Uh No time to die. It's a, I've heard very good things about it from a lot of people not affiliated who's seen it. Maverick, the Top Gun sequel with Tom Cruise. I actually saw that movie and it's phenomenal. I think it's going to be a real blockbuster and then later in the year of films like Dune. I think we're also going to do very, so what changes do you think that theaters need to make so that people feel like going to the movies is special and also a safe thing to do post pandemic and what are your plans at imax? And it changes new features that you're going to be offering up? So the movie, this has been around for over 100 years and people have gone and you know, there's been talk of disruption throughout that time, whether it's television, people are never going to go back to the movies, video on demand, uh, all kinds of things. Blockbuster stores, you can rent it. Why are you going to go to the movies? The death has been predicted inaccurately over and over again. I think people are going to want to go to the movies and as I said earlier, we've seen that throughout the world. So the experience itself, I don't think needs changing. Obviously we're in a transition period now where people need to feel safe and they need to, to be safe. And a lot of the theaters have done different things like controlling the, how you get in and how you get out. There's some social distancing of this mask wearing in many locations. I think there's not only the issue of being safe, but it's feeling safe. And I think during this transition period, you have to pay particular attention to that. Let's talk a little bit about all the deal making going on in your industry. What impact do you see from Discovery buying, warnermedia and amazon picking up MGm If anything, cuz I think it's going to be a positive impact. I think a lot of people got into the business such as a T T for example, that didn't have a history of being in the business and I think they had kind of 11 fixed one idea that fits everything. I think it just doesn't. I think that blockbuster movies have will play, they played around the world and I think you'll see more windows put around those things and if you can sell the same property five times over different channels rather than selling it once you make more money, it's a tried and true model. And I think that model will come back and I think you'll see a revitalization of the movie business through these changes. But from what we know about the way that Jeff Bezos, for example, runs amazon he's a disrupter and discoveries. David Zaslav also very innovative, very creative. How do you see these power players coming into the movie industry and shaking up things in Hollywood? What do you expect? I think it's back to the future. Susie. I think the disruptors came in and they had their chance during the pandemic and it was a good solution during the pandemic. But I think the fact that these properties traded indicates that it wasn't the right long term solution by the ignored. Did anyone think it was? So, I think they're going to come in. Of course they'll experiment because you're right, they like experimenting with things. But what we've seen on a global basis is that the model that's existed for a number of years still works. There'll be some tweets on it. So smaller movies will probably go straight to streaming, a more niche. Movies will go straight to streaming. But I think block big blockbuster films will still go to theaters and they'll perform very well and then they'll go to ST Rich. It uh, seems like the movie industry is at an inflection point between the pandemic and all these mergers that are going on. Things are changing. Given your nearly 30 years of experience of running imax from your perspective, what do you think is the key ingredient that will determine who comes out as the winners for the losers going forward? I think people who understand content will be the winners. You have to let filmmakers create. People go to the movies or watch television because they're entertained. And I think focusing too much on technology obvious gates the real point, which is you have to let filmmakers create and you have to let talent act and whoever is the most sensitive to that will win.