Film releases subsequent 12 months may make for an ’embarrassment of riches,’ Imax CEO says

Despite the number of productions delayed this year by the coronavirus pandemic, Imax CEO Richard Gelfond on CNBC Monday said the new year could prove to be lucrative for his company.

While studios paused tapings, film releases were also delayed as movie theaters closed across the country in response to the Covid-19 outbreak earlier this year. Gelfond expects to recoup at least some of the revenue that was missed out on in 2020, should optimistic forecasts for containing the global health crisis play out as hoped, giving Imax a boost as movie lovers seek out immersive entertainment that they can’t get at home.

“In a way, 2021, if things do open early in the year, it’s an embarrassment of riches,” he said in a “Closing Bell” interview. “There’s an awful lot of content, and that’s true on a global basis.”

Some of the highly anticipated films that Gelfond is banking on to be released next year include “Top Gun: Maverick,” “Black Widow” and “Fast & Furious 9.” Each of their planned 2020 releases were pushed back to 2021. Imax also has exposure to foreign box offices with locations in 82 countries, where other films are also on backlog, Gelfond said. North America makes up one-third of Imax’s global business.

In 2019, Imax recorded its best-grossing year with $1.035 billion in box-office sales. It was the second straight year the company brought in more than $1 billion in total receipts. That streak was broken in 2020.

Imax revenue reached $395.7 million in 2019 after three straight years of about $370 million or more. Revenue has suffered greatly in the past three quarters, down 70% from the same nine-month period last year.

“Fortunately, there’s a big backlog of movies that already exist,” Gelfond said.

As vaccine campaigns around the globe get underway and health experts plot potential reopening timelines, companies are mapping out when they expect to see business rebound to pre-pandemic levels.

Gelfond is projecting business at Imax theaters to begin to improve by summer with the launch of “Top Gun: Maverick,” starring Tom Cruise and Jennifer Connelly.

“I think by then you’ll start to approach 100% levels and then certainly by the fourth quarter it’ll be completely open,” he said. Given the optimism that the U.S. economy will bounce back quickly after the country reaches ideal immunity levels, “I think it’s highly likely that by the second quarter things are going to start to open up here.”

Shares of Imax rose 4% on Monday, closing at $17.70. The stock is down 13% year to date.

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