Imax movie theaters to close in Madrid and Barcelona

The giant-screen cinemas have been hit hard by the crisis

Filmgoers at the Madrid Imax theater.
Filmgoers at the Madrid Imax theater.Kike Para

Following years of making losses, Spain’s two biggest Imax cinemas, in Madrid and Barcelona, are to close. “We have held on against all odds until now, but we just can’t keep hoping things will improve,” said Juan José Castelló, the CEO of Teatromax, which has the franchise for the high-resolution, giant-screen movie theaters in Spain.

Imax arrived in Spain in 1992, for the Seville Expo. That theater closed in 2005 and after the latest closures, there will be just three Imax format cinemas left in Spain: in the Madrid dormitory town of Leganés, in Palma de Mallorca, and in Valencia, although these have smaller screens than the ones in Madrid and Barcelona.

Teatromax never made a profit, but in recent years the crisis has hit the company hard as audience numbers fell still further, making it impossible for it to pay its suppliers. It has now racked up €5.5 million in debt, while its annual turnover has fallen to €1.5 million. Castelló says the company is due to close the Madrid and Barcelona cinemas in September, but may even consider doing so this week.

The company has now racked up €5.5 million in debt, while its annual turnover has fallen to €1.5 million

“Imax technology has not kept up with the pace of technological change, and has still failed to come up with laser projectors, as we were hoping,” says Castelló. Each film reel costs up to €40,000, which is far higher than the ones for regular movie theaters, even those for 3D films.

Spain is not alone in failing to make a go of the Imax system. Castelló says around 150 Imax theaters have closed around the world in the last couple of years.

But Imax franchises in other parts of the globe do continue to be successful. The Imax Corporation turned over €59.22 million in the second quarter of 2014, down 3.2 percent on the same period last year. It still has 840 cinemas in 57 countries, and plans to open new movie houses in the United Kingdom, Chile and Brazil.

The system’s biggest market is China, where Imax has reached a deal with the Shanghai Film Corporation to build 19 new screens in 2015 throughout the country. The recently premiered sci-fi adventure Guardians of the Galaxy, based on a Marvel comic book, has just tripled the record for the biggest opening weekend for an Imax-format film in the United States. Hollywood is key to the survival of Imax. Since 1995, when Apollo 13 became the first US box-office hit in the format, the company has screened more and more big-budget productions.

Around 150 Imax theaters have closed around the world in the last couple of years

Filmmaker J. J. Abrams has said that the long-awaited seventh Star Wars movie will be released in Imax, as his Star Trek reboot was in 2009. Christopher Nolan filmed parts of his three Batman movies in the format, and told EL PAÍS that he believes that Imax is really the only way to offer moviegoers something different to the screens they are used to.

But many Spanish film fans will now have to forego that experience. Teatromax says that in the good years, audiences were around one million annually; last year just 130,000 people attended the Madrid theater. “And that is bearing in mind that 85 percent of our audience was made up of schoolchildren who were watching animal and science documentaries, and thus paying less,” says Castelló, adding that the company has been losing around €1 million a year for the last four years. “The problem is that nobody wants to pay for content in this country,” he complains.

Teatromax says it wants to turn the Madrid cinema into a multi-event venue, taking in concerts and business conferences. In Barcelona the space, which is in the upscale port area, will be refurbished and used for restaurants and shops.

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