IMAX’s CEO Discusses Battle Between Barbie, Oppenheimer, and Mission Impossible

Written by on June 18, 2023

This year’s summer lineup of blockbuster films is proving to be one of the strongest in the past few years, with Greta Gerwig’s Barbie, Christopher Nolan’s Oppenheimer, and Christopher McQuarrie’s Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One all set to blow up theaters next month.

While audiences everywhere are undoubtedly beyond excited to catch at least one of those films if not all three, there has actually been a quiet battle going on behind the scenes in regards to IMAX, the most coveted of screenings for big budget films. Per a report from Variety, the CEO of IMAX himself Rich Gelfond recently opened up about the secret bartering going on between all three blockbusters, vying to get premium theater real estate ahead of their premiere dates, and how there are wins and losses at stake.


Related: Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One: What to Expect From the Film

It’s undeniable that all three of the summer’s biggest films have some serious leverage behind them to reserve rights to the very lucrative, albeit limited number of IMAX screens in theaters across the country. In one corner, Gerwig’s Barbie is shaping up to definitely be the pinkest film of the decade, having reportedly exhausted the world’s supply of pink paint to pull off the spectacular sets seen in the trailers.

In another corner is director Christopher McQuarrie and Tom Cruise, the biggest action star in modern film who recently took quite the victory lap with Top Gun: Maverick, the spiritual successor to the original 90s film that flew far above and beyond all competition and earned over a billion dollars at the box office, thanks in no small part to its IMAX airtime. Now the penultimate film in the Mission Impossible franchise is set to rock the big screen, promising some of the biggest feats in filmmaking including the most dangerous stunt ever performed by none other than Cruise himself, of course.

Finally, there’s Christopher Nolan with Oppenheimer, who probably holds the biggest card in his hand. Nolan has since become one of the most iconic and beloved directors of the industry, praised for his near-mythical ability with practical effects and exquisite storytelling that seldom ever leaves a single thread hanging. Above all that, however, he’s also fiercely dedicated to constructing his films in IMAX format. Many of them have sequences that have been shot in that format, but Oppenheimer stands out as his first film to be shot entirely in IMAX 65mm, from the first frame to the last.

Gelfond’s Difficult Choice to Make Between Three Enormous Films

Image via Paramount

While all three of these impending blockbuster phenomenons have plenty to bring to the table, and plenty at stake as well, there stands the elephant in the room – timing. Not only are all three films premiering in the same month, they’re all within just over a week of each other. Barbie and Oppenheimer both open on the exact same date of July 21, which has led to some comical feedback online from moviegoers, given the stark contrast of both films. Meanwhile, Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One opens just over a week earlier on July 12, which technically puts it at the head of the pack but still with a ticking clock, so to speak. The extremely tight gap between the films has led to some serious backstage bartering between the film’s directors and distributors over North America’s 400 coveted IMAX screens.

However, it turns out that Universal Pictures had long since cemented an unconventional agreement that allows Nolan’s Oppenheimer to have complete control of the country’s IMAX footprint for the first three weeks. This all happened well before Dead Reckoning Part One worked through all of its COVID-related delays to finally nail down an official date of July 12.

On top of that, directors who primarily use IMAX tech in their films are traditionally given at least a two-week exclusive window, so Nolan was ahead of the game from the get-go. This also means that Greta Gerwig’s Barbie, given that it opens the same day, will not be in IMAX at all. Meanwhile, despite repeated attempts by Paramount to sweeten the deal for Cruise’s MI7, they’ll only have IMAX screens for one week before having to relinquish them all to Oppenheimer.

IMAX CEO Rich Gelfond, who is well aware of the situation, laments that they can’t make all audiences and directors happy when such circumstances happen. When asked by Variety where things stand between both Oppenheimer and MI: Dead Reckoning Part One:

“I feel sad in a way we can’t accommodate all of them. I know ‘Mission: Impossible’ is going to be a really big movie…Nolan has a special place in Imax’s heart because he uses our cameras and promotes us. It’s not a matter of us saying which we can make more money on. I would hope after ‘Oppenheimer’s’ run, we can bring back ‘Mission.’”

That means that Cruise may get his IMAX rights back for MI7 before its tenure in theaters runs out, but only time will tell. Either way, all three films are set to premiere next month in theaters everywhere, so be sure to get all your tickets ready.

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