It’s taken over the internet and soon Star Wars: The Force Awakens will take over IMAX theaters as well. The large format exhibitor recently signed a deal with Disney and Lucasfilm ensuring that the most anticipated film of the year be the only movie shown on IMAX screens for the first month of its release.
As important as the deal is for Disney – giving audiences every opportunity to see Star Wars on IMAX – it also controls what they won’t see on the super-big screen. The deal essentially shuts out Ron Howard’s (Frost/Nixon) epic In The Heart of the Sea, which opens a week before Star Wars, and Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s (Birdman) The Revenant, which opens a week later. Studios often rely on the premium ticket prices for large format theaters like IMAX to generate extra revenue for their summer and holiday event films. See 2009’s Avatar, 2013’s Gravity and last year’s Interstellar as prime examples. Other fall blockbusters like The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Pt. 2, The Walk, and Spectre all open before Star Wars and will not be greatly affected by the deal.
It’s an unusual deal for sure, but not unprecedented. IMAX Corporation had a similar deal with New Line Cinema and Time Warner for The Hobbit films. Earlier this year, IMAX renewed their deal with Disney that ensured Captain America: Civil War and Rogue One: A Star Wars Story will be shown in their theaters along with other Disney, Marvel, Lucasfilm and Pixar films. We will likely see more exclusive deals like this in the future, as big films continue to generate more money from IMAX. This summer’s biggest movie, Jurassic World, is the second highest-grossing movie that was also shown in IMAX theaters. While IMAX-specific grosses haven’t been released, Universal can attribute a large portion of the film’s success to the format.
This deal all but guarantees Star Wars: The Force Awakens will pass Jurassic World to have the highest-grossing opening weekend of all time when it opens December 18, and will quickly be one of the highest grossing movies of all-time.