‘Oppenheimer’ Best Picture Win Earns Imax CEO Rich Gelfond A Shoutout From Oscar Stage; Company Boosted Film’s Celluloid-Backed Run To Glory

Oppenheimer producer Emma Thomas hit a few expected notes in her Best Picture acceptance speech Sunday night, thanking director Christopher Nolan and Universal Pictures.

But another name in her speech was probably less familiar to many at the Dolby Theatre or watching the Oscar telecast from home: Rich Gelfond, longtime CEO of Imax Corp. Thomas thanked the exec “and everybody else at Imax for believing in this movie when it maybe didn’t make that much sense to do so. Thank you to all the theaters. As a moviegoer and as a filmmaker, that’s why we do what we do.”

The speech capped a big night for Oppenheimer, which won seven Oscars out of a total of 13 nominations. Her shout-out of Imax also highlighted a traditional aspect of the film’s blockbuster run: celluloid film.

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Hoyte van Hoytema, who won for Cinematography, began his acceptance speech by praising the legacy format. “To all the aspiring filmmakers out there, I would like to say, ‘Please try shooting that incredible new hit thing called celluloid,’” he said. “It’s much easier … and it makes things look so much better.”

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The 3-hour period drama broke ground by having the first black-and-white sequences ever shot with large-format Imax equipment. Because of Nolan’s following among cinephiles and the tech savvy, Imax racked up $183.2 million in Oppenheimer box office on Imax screens, an outsized share of its global gross of $950 million. The film’s performance pushed Imax’s theatrical revenue to $1.06 billion in 2023, up 24% from 2022. Domestic receipts of $393.2 million were the highest in company history, besting even the 2019 Avengers: Endgame high water mark.

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Gelfond joined Imax as co-chairman in 1994 after his firm, Cheviot Capital Advisors, bought the company. Last week, he was asked about the outlook for 70mm and celluloid during an appearance at a conference hosted by Wall Street firm Morgan Stanley.

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After migrating to digital formats years ago, Imax has maintained about 30 auditoriums with film projectors, Gelfond said, a small (if popular) part of its portfolio. A single Imax film print costs about $40,000, compared with $100 for digital, he noted. Also, “you need a forkift to pick it up, it weighs over 500 pounds. So, it’s not really a format we can build on, but we kept that infrastructure in place.”

Traditional film, he summed up, “is a little bit like vinyl. The public really has a high demand for that, and people really want to go to it.”

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