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`POLAR EXPRESS' PASSES $20 MILLION MARK WITH IMAX.

Byline: Greg Hernandez Staff Writer

While Warner Bros.' ``The Polar Express'' continues to chug along impressively at the multiplex, the 3-D giant-screen version of the film playing in IMAX theaters has quietly crossed $20 million in box office grosses, IMAX Corp. announced Tuesday.

``Polar'' is the highest-grossing IMAX version of a mainstream film that the company has ever released. The previous top-earner was ``The Matrix Reloaded,'' which earned more than $14 million in giant-screen ticket sales last year.

``The way audiences have embraced this film speaks volumes about moviegoers' appetite for Hollywood blockbusters in IMAX's format, as well as their willingness to pay a premium for this immersive experience,'' IMAX co-chairmen and co-CEOs Richard L. Gelfond and Bradley J. Wechsler said in a statement.

Canada-based IMAX has gone increasingly Hollywood-mainstream in recent years, with selected blockbusters - such as ``Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban,'' ``Spider-Man 2'' and ``The Matrix Reloaded'' - remastered for the giant screen with IMAX's DMR process, which allows for a movie to be enlarged for an IMAX screen without compromising picture quality.

The process allows audiences to experience a version of a film that stretches beyond their peripheral view on screens eight stories high and 120 feet wide surrounded by up to 14,000 watts of pure digital sound.

``Polar'' was overshadowed at the box office by ``The Incredibles'' when it bowed last month and a box-office disappointment seemed inevitable. But the film has been a popular IMAX attraction from the beginning and its grosses at regular theaters have been uncommonly steady; it remains in the top four after more than six weeks of release. The film had grossed a total of $125.5 million as of Monday, $22.3 million of which is IMAX ticket sales.

``This is one of the few movies in the history of our industry that has never been No. 1 but will certainly exceed $160 million domestically,'' said Dan Fellman, Warner Bros.' president of domestic distribution. ``The IMAX gross was very, very good, which was our plan from the beginning. IMAX eventizes our films and there's an audience out there.''

Warner Bros. and IMAX announced this month that they will next team up on ``Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,'' a film directed by Tim Burton and starring Johnny Depp. The film will be released to IMAX and conventional 35mm theaters July 15.

``We have worked with IMAX on six projects in the past two years, and the box-office performance and response from moviegoers has been consistently outstanding for each release,'' Fellman said.

But before ``Charlie'' hits theaters next summer, IMAX will launch ``Robots,'' a computer-animated film from 20th Century Fox, simultaneously in regular and giant-screen formats in March.

Greg Hernandez, (818) 713-3758

greg.hernandez(at)dailynews.com
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Title Annotation:Business
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Geographic Code:1CANA
Date:Dec 22, 2004
Words:457
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