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Illustrative image. Image Credit: Pixabay

Tokyo: Imax Corp. signed an agreement with Wanda Film Holding Co. to upgrade and add more screens in China, the company's second-largest market by sales.

Known for its giant screens, Imax will open as many as 25 new locations in the country over the next three years and refit or renew 100 existing sites over a longer time frame, Chief Executive Officer Rich Gelfond said in an interview.

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The agreement marks Imax's first deal with Wanda "- its biggest cinema partner globally "- since that company was acquired by Tencent Holdings Ltd.-backed China Ruyi Holdings Ltd. in December. It also follows similar agreements Imax has struck in recent months with China's Hengdian Films and Bona Film Group.

Imax's expansion in the country comes as the government gradually reopens its lucrative market to Hollywood films. On Monday, Walt Disney Co.'s Marvel announced that it would release Deadpool & Wolverine in China this July after securing approval from Chinese regulators. Gelfond expects more Hollywood films to be shown in China this year than the 41 screened last year, which was up from 25 in 2022. Before the pandemic, more than half of Imax's box office revenue in China was from Hollywood films, but the majority is now from local language films, he said.

"Going forward, it'll be a split between Hollywood and local language content, probably with local outperforming, but with Hollywood doing better than it did in 2023 because of the more liberal import policy of the Chinese government," Gelfond said.

Imax and Wanda will also explore opportunities to collaborate on displaying content outside traditional Hollywood and local language films such as concerts and live events, Gelfond said. In Hong Kong and Taiwan, Imax has livestreamed the National Basketball Association finals to sold-out audiences, he said. In 2019, Tencent signed a five-year rights deal to stream NBA games in China.

Gelfond also said Imax was still analyzing the possibility of acquiring its public Imax China Holding Inc. subsidiary after shareholders in that business voted against the attempt last year.