IMAX Is on Cruise Control


It may have been a lousy year at the local multiplex, but don't tell that to IMAX (NYS: IMAX) .

The provider of supersized theatrical experiences closed out the year with a bang on the heels of its successful screenings of Mission: Impossible -- Ghost Protocol.

The fourth installment of the popular movie series has grossed $46.1 million globally in IMAX ticket sales through Monday.

Viacom's (NYS: VIA) Paramount has a hit in the relentless action flick, grossing $367 million worldwide.

How important has IMAX been to the film's success? Well, let's break this down domestically. IMAX ticket sales of $33.1 million account for a little more than 23% of the $141.2 million that the Tom Cruise movie has scored in domestic ticket sales. To put this into its proper perspective, just 300 of the 3,455 screens in this country screening the movie are IMAX. In other words, IMAX may account for just 9% of the film's screens -- but it has raised 23% of the revenue.

Sure, IMAX cheated. The movie opened in IMAX screens six days before most conventional theaters began running Mission: Impossible -- Ghost Protocol. An action-packed 30 minutes of the movie were also filmed with IMAX cameras, sequences that expand to fill the entire screen at IMAX showings.

However, aren't these "tricks" really ultimately great reasons to consider IMAX as a big winner in a year that saw theater attendance dip to a 16-year low?

Whether it was a lack of interest, a soft economy, or the quality of 2011's movie slate that kept popcorn-downing patrons away, there's still a market for companies that raise the intensity of celluloid. 3-D outfitter RealD (NYS: RLD) gives exhibitors a way to charge slightly more for a rich 3-D screening that they can't experience in most living rooms. IMAX's larger-than-life projections and amped up sound system give a movie -- especially thrillers and big-budget action movies -- more oomph.

Folks aren't afraid to pay up for an engrossing cinematic escape regardless of the industry's soft overall ticket sales.

Whether audiences bounce back in 2012, the lesson has been learned. More studios will be tempted to follow Paramount's blueprint and film select segments with IMAX cameras and open early at IMAX theaters.

The traditional multiplex may self-destruct in five seconds, but IMAX is proving why it's built to last.

If you want to see how premium cinema holds up beyond today's matinee, consider addingRealDandIMAXto My Watchlist. If you're ready for a different kind of feature presentation, ask yourself if you know the two words that arescaring the dance moves out of Steve Ballmer. It's a free report, but like a hot theatrical release, it won't be showing forever, socheck it out now.

At the time thisarticle 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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