Did IMAX Give Up on "The Hunger Games" Too Soon?

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If you were looking forward to catching The Hunger Games blown up on IMAX (NYS: IMAX) this weekend, you're out of luck.

The limited weeklong engagement ended last night. If you head out to your local multiplex with an IMAX screen today, you'll be seeing Time Warner's (NYS: TWX) Wrath of the Titans instead.

There's nothing necessarily wrong with Wrath of the Titans. The trailer looks impressive. This is the type of action flick with high-end special effects that lends itself perfectly to IMAX's larger-than-life platform.


However, after breaking a few IMAX records and becoming Hollywood's third-biggest opening weekend ever, most box office watchers see Lionsgate's (NYS: LGF) The Hunger Games easily besting new arrivals Wrath of the Titans and Mirror, Mirror. At least one projection has The Hunger Games ringing up nearly twice as many ticket sales as Wrath of the Titans this weekend, and that's without the benefit of the premium-priced IMAX screens.

It also doesn't help that the rebooted Titans franchise hasn't been a hit with the critics. Clash of the Titans two years ago received just an embarrassing 28% in Rotten Tomatoes, the aggregator website that compiles the percentage of film critics that actually like a movie. It's still early, but Wrath of the Titans has an even more ominous 25% rating. In other words, just one out of every four critics recommends paying up to catch today's debut.

Clash of the Titans was still a global hit, but if consumers feel the same way as the critics, burned moviegoers may not be interested in supporting the sequel.

The silver lining for IMAX here is that if Wrath of the Titans is a dud, it won't have to sit on it for too long. Many of its screens switch over to Titanic in 3-D -- a brief theatrical run of the world's second-highest-grossing movie of all time, remastered in 3-D -- next Friday.

If James Cameron's epic doesn't play too well, it too is only slated for a weeklong stint.

This is actually great news for IMAX investors. With so many movie studios angling to get their more promising releases blown up on IMAX's higher-priced screens, IMAX is now able to move quickly from release to release. Instead of clinging to a theatrical dud because it doesn't have new product on the way -- and this used to happen from time to time just a couple of years ago -- IMAX's release slate is starting to look like a punk rock band's music set with a lot of brief bursts of energy.

Even if Wrath of the Titans disappoints over its entire theatrical run, there will clearly be more than enough fans out there to support a strong opening weekend for IMAX showings -- and that's really all IMAX needs. It's the traditional exhibitors that will have to worry about still screening the movie a couple of weeks from now if it's a cinematic dud.

More importantly, IMAX will now be ready to rally behind Catching Fire -- Lionsgate's sequel to The Hunger Games -- when it hits a theater near you next year.

So, in the end, IMAX's appeal as a play on The Hunger Games mania may not be as deserving as Lionsgate or series book publisher Scholastic (NAS: SCHL) , the two companies that are truly benefiting the long-term appeal of the trilogy. However, IMAX should be ready to make even more money on the property next year -- with plenty of brief bursts of energy along the way.

Feature attraction
I've been a believer in IMAX for years. It's been a market beater both times that I have recommended IMAX as an investment to Rule Breakers newsletter subscribers. As part of the CAPScall initiative for accountability, I've also had a bullish IMAX call on Motley Fool CAPS for some time.

 If you're ready for a different kind of feature presentation, ask yourself if you know the two words that are scaring the pants off Steve Ballmer. It's a free report, but like a hot theatrical release it won't be showing forever, so check it out now.

At the time this article was published Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of IMAX. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.Longtime Fool contributor Rick Munarriz calls them as he sees them. He does not own shares in any of the stocks in this story. Rick is also part of theRule Breakersnewsletter research team, seeking out tomorrow's ultimate growth stocks a day early.

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