IMAX logo

IMAX is a system of high-resolution cameras, film formats and film projectors. Graeme Ferguson, Roman Kroitor, Robert Kerr, and William C. Shaw developed the first IMAX cinema projection standards in the late 1960s and early 1970s in Canada.[1] Unlike conventional projectors, the film runs horizontally (see diagram sprocket holes) so that the image width is greater than the width of the film. Since 2002, some feature films have been converted into IMAX format for displaying in IMAX theatres, and some have also been (partially) shot in IMAX. IMAX is the most widely used system for special-venue film presentations. By late 2017, 1,302 IMAX theatre systems were installed in 1,203 commercial multiplexes, 13 commercial destinations, and 86 institutional settings in 75 countries.[2]


A comparison between 35 mm and 15/70 mm negative areas.
IMAX projector with horizontal film reel

The desire to increase the visual impact of film has a long history. In 1929, Fox introduced Fox Grandeur, the first 70 mm film format, but it quickly fell from use.[3] In the 1950s, the potential of 35 mm film to provide wider projected images was explored in the processes of CinemaScope (1953) and VistaVision (1954), following multi-projector systems such as Cinerama (1952). While impressive, Cinerama was difficult to install. During Expo 67 in Montreal, the National Film Board of Canada's U.S. Patent 3,494,524). As it became clear that a single, large-screen image had more impact than multiple smaller ones and was a more viable product direction, Multiscreen changed its name to IMAX. An IMAX 3D theatre also is in operation near the former Expo 67 site at the Montreal Science Centre in the Port of Old Montreal.

Tiger Child, the first IMAX film, was demonstrated at Expo '70 in Osaka, Japan.[4] The first permanent IMAX installation was built at the Cinesphere theatre at Ontario Place in Toronto. It debuted in May 1971, showing the film North of Superior. The installation remained in place[5] during Ontario Place's hiatus for redevelopment. The Cinesphere was renovated while Ontario Place was closed and re-opened on November 3, 2017 with IMAX 70 mm and IMAX with laser.[6]

During Expo '74 in Spokane, Washington, an IMAX screen that measured 27 m × 20 m (89 ft × 66 ft) was featured in the US Pavilion (the largest structure in the expo). It became the first IMAX Theatre to not be partnered with any other brand of movie theaters. About five million visitors viewed the screen, which covered the viewer's total visual field when looking directly forward. This created a sensation of motion in most viewers, and motion sickness in some. Another IMAX 3D theater was also built in Spokane; however, its screen-size is less than half. Due to protests, the City of Spokane officials have decided to work the IMAX Corporation to demolish the theatre, under the condition they renovate the US Pavilion itself into IMAX's first permanent outdoor giant-screen theatre. The plan is to use material on the inside of the structure, similar to that it used when first constructed. However, it is expected to last a range of 5 years, due to weather conditions destroying previous materials.[7] Concept art has been released to the public in videos featured on Spokane's renovation site, and its budget revealed that seating is planned for more than 2,000.[8][9]

The first permanent IMAX Dome installation, the Eugene Heikoff and Marilyn Jacobs Heikoff Dome Theatre at the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center, opened in San Diego's Balboa Park in 1973. It doubles as a planetarium. The first permanent IMAX 3D theatre was built in Vancouver, British Columbia for Transitions at Expo '86, and was in use until September 30, 2009.[10] It was located at the tip of Canada Place, a Vancouver landmark.

In 2008, IMAX extended their brand into traditional theaters with the introduction of Digital IMAX, a lower-cost system that uses two 2K digital projectors to project on a 1.90:1 aspect ratio screen. This lower-cost option, which allowed for the conversion of existing multiplex theater auditoriums, helped IMAX to grow from 299 screens worldwide at the end of 2007 to over 1,000 screens by the end of 2015.[11][12] As of September 2017, there were 1,302 IMAX theatres located in 75 countries, of which 1,203 were in commercial multiplexes.[13]

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