THE SCREENING ROOM
The first film released commercially in Imax theatres was the Walt Disney Pictures release of “Fantasia/2000” in 2000. The film was very successful in the few Imax venues in which it played. Ironically, the 35mm and digital cinema versions of the film flopped.
In 2002, Imax unveiled its new DMR (Digital Re-Mastering) process, whereby 35mm and digital (24p) films could be blown up to Imax 15-perf/70mm film format. The format was possibly in answer to the outrageous practice of some commercial theatres running unmasked 35mm prints on their Imax screens and boasting "enhanced presentation." This was not only of poor presentation quality, but audiences going into the theatre expecting an Imax presentation were being sold a lie. Some theatres hyped that certain movies, like “Gladiator” (2000) were on the giant Imax screen. True, but the image from a 35mm was dim, grainy and only filled a portion of the large screen. With DMR, high-quality 70mm prints were struck using Imax’s proprietary software and stringent quality control.
Not all of the commercial films released in the large format have gone through the DMR process. Some Disney animated films, like “Beauty And The Beast,” were converted to Imax from the original digital files on which the films were finalized. This resulted in very high resolution prints.
Although we don't have traditional 5-perf 70mm prints released these days on new films, there is an alternative in these Imax prints. They're very high in quality and a lot better than a 35mm print. Yes, it's kind of disappointing to pay $11.00 on one of these conversions. To use a tired cliché, back in the day, it cost the same amount of money to see a 70mm blow-up as it did for a 35mm print of the same film! And, what you're seeing in these digital-to-Imax and DMR prints isn't true 15-perf Imax. But it's a nice alternative to poor looking 35mm release prints. Still, it makes one wonder why so much money is spent on these large format prints, when striking 5-perf 70mm prints on today's high quality film stock will yield similar results. And there is no letterboxing involved, as there is with the Imax prints. The 5-perf 70mm image will fill a standard widescreen with ease. That said, it is appealing to see high quality 70mm prints on gigantic screens.
There is a debate in what constitutes a "True Imax" movie. Traditionally, most Imax movies were (and still are) shot in 15/70. This means a film is shot with 15-perforations of the film. The film runs through the Imax camera horizontally, and then is projected horizontally. The end result is an image that fills the Imax screen. (Traditional 35mm film is shot with 4-perforations of film, vertically).
With many Hollywood films going through the DMR process, widescreen films in the 2.39:1 aspect ratio are letterboxed. This results in a widescreen picture in an Imax theater, but with the top and bottom of the frame blackened out. Technically, this isn't "True Imax." Most 15/70 Imax movies utilize the entire frame. DMR films do not. However, to make things even more confusing, films shot in 1.85:1 can fill most of the Imax frame, as that aspect ratio is a bit closer to the Imax aspect ratio of 1.44:1.
In 2008, Imax introduced its new digital projection system. In agreement with select theater chains, exhibitors retrofitted screens and sound systems to meet Imax standards. These newer screens are smaller than a standard Imax screen. In addition, newspaper ads do not differentiate between digital Imax or 15-perf/70mm Imax. Movie patrons should be aware of this before they put down their money on an "Imax Experience."
The new digital Imax screens, that I'm aware of, are even smaller and retrofitted into existing auditoriums. Newspaper ads in the Los Angeles and Orange County areas do not normally differentiate between these screens. One chain does list their Imax theater as "The Original Imax Experience." Cinema Fusion in Anaheim proudly boasts "In 70mm" when they mention their Imax film presentations on their website. So if you're looking to see a movie in Imax film projection, check with your local theater to make sure you're seeing "True Imax."
Worthy of note are the screen size differences between Imax venues. Many theater complexes that feature an Imax auditorium may have the fairly standard 6-8 story screen. Many of these auditoriums were built specifically for Imax presentation. Some venues which use the Imax "MPX" projection system (15-perf/70mm) have smaller than normal Imax screens.
What follows is a list of every commercial Imax film released since 2000. Some films have had their original aspect ratios modified for DMR release, like “Apollo 13” and "Star Wars: Episode II," in an effort to fill a larger portion of the Imax screen. Most others retained their original widescreen aspect ratios or an approximation via a letterboxed presentation.
Some movies were planned for Imax release, but didn't make it to the large screen:
PLANNED, BUT NEVER RELEASED IN IMAX
(Titles that received studio press release and/or trade coverage announcing intention to release in IMAX, or had test footage printed)
Aladdin (test footage printed and shown at Large Format Cinema Association conference)
Catwoman (preview was printed and shown in IMAX theaters with "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban")
Happy Feet (announced for 3-D release; title released in IMAX 2-D)
Shrek (was announced at the Large Format Cinema Association conference)Tarzan (test footage printed and shown at Large Format Cinema Association conference)
This list is a work-in-progress. Some items listed as "N/A" were not available at the time of publication.
The lists (2000-present) are now divided by year for quick access. Years 2000-2007 are listed alphabetically.
U.S. Release Date
Aspect Ratio (as presented in IMAX)
3-D (where applicable)
*Principal photography can be originated via the following formats, or sometimes a combination of:
35mm (anamorphic or "scope")
24p (high-definition video)
IMAX 15-perf 70mm
Search By Year
Disney, LF Examiner, Lucasfilm Ltd., personal reporting from the former Large Format Cinema Association (LFCA) conferences [1999-2005], Variety, Imax, Andy Gellis of LFCA, and www.bigmoviezone.com
Photo: © 20th Century Fox. All rights reserved.