Developed in the early 1970s, IMAX offered a larger on-screen image with much higher resolution than conventional films of the time. IMAX systems were marketed principally to special, non-profit venues such as: museums, aquariums, science centers, planetariums, etc. Content was 40 minute nature documentaries which were produced in collaboration with one or several of these special venue facilities.
Great, award-winning docu-films like, 'Mount Everest', 'Antartica' and 'Roving Mars' were produced and made the rounds of the increasing number of giant screen venues that were constructed around the world. However, these films were not profitable for IMAX and it was inevitable that they would have to venture into the main stream consumer market. Thus began the production and screening of docus like 'The Rolling Stones: Live At The Max' - but again the cost of production and limited distribution made profit generation illusive.
So, IMAX went wide and started to screen conventional films blown up to accommodate their large format. This became much easier when digital cinema was introduced and much less expensive. IMAX, for the last decade has become locked-into the Hollywood blockbuster and 3D genres.
However, IMAX stills suffers from its original problem - not enough content.
It's normally gangbusters at the boxoffice in the first two weeks of a run at an IMAX venue and then attendance dies off. Price is one reason. In a quick survey, conducted for this article, the prices for admission to an IMAX ranged from $13.50 to $20.00. Another reason, is that conventional theaters have gotten larger with some auditoriums having screens as large as an IMAX and, in some cases, superior sound. This combination leaves IMAX theaters empty or near empty for weeks, with no new product to screen.
Lack of content will weigh heavily on the IMAX theaters going forward, coupled with increased competition from conventional cinemas and high admission pricing the outlook isn't rosy. We may see IMAX going back to its roots and revert to producing one-off documentaries for the special venue giant screen locations. Only time will tell.