Global cinema operator IMAX Corporation said a strong performance in China helped it to achieve year-on-year growth and cut losses in the first quarter of the year.

In its financial update for the three months to March 31, IMAX said global box office of $110m for the period was its first year-on-year quarterly box office growth since the pandemic began.

The operator said results were driven by the strong rebound of moviegoing in Asia and encouraging performances at the multiplex as other global markets reopen. For the quarter, IMAX achieved record-breaking Chinese New Year opening weekend results as well as its No.1 and No.2 highest grossing Japanese local language releases of all time. It also enjoyed its strongest North American opening of the pandemic period with ‘Godzilla vs. Kong’, which also performed well in key markets including Mexico, Russia, Spain, and Saudi Arabia.

IMAX reported first quarter 2021 revenues of $38.8m, gross margin of $17.3m, and a net loss attributable to common shareholders of $14.8m.

While revenues were up compared to the $34.9m of Q1 2020, they were less than half the $80.2m generated in the first period of pre-pandemic 2019. The net loss was an almost 70 per cent improvement on the $49.4m recorded last year, with IMAX recording earnings of $10.8m in Q1 2019.

“The last year has brought the strong, unique market position of IMAX into sharp focus; we are a global platform for blockbuster entertainment with a valuable brand, flexible, asset-lite business model and strong balance sheet,” said Richard L. Gelfond, chief executive of IMAX Corporation.

“The distinct attributes of our business and brand enable IMAX to help lead the global film industry out of the pandemic — drawing audiences back to the theatres and driving revenue across the ecosystem, as IMAX continues to grow its global footprint, box office, and market share.”

Gelfond struck an optimistic note for cinema operators, with North American major player AMC Theaters to post its Q1 results next week. AMC said in March that 98 per cent of its theatres had now reopened in its key US market.

New York City-listed IMAX’s share price at $21.95 is roughly the same as it was in January 2020, before the pandemic struck.

IMAX’s Gelfond added: “Through our unique global footprint, we continue to see first-hand that where audiences feel safe and the virus is under control they will return quickly to the theatres.

“Audiences across Asia continue to rediscover the theatrical experience in impressive numbers, driving record-breaking box office and accelerating the continued shift to blockbusters at the multiplex. As Hollywood tentpoles return to theatres, the recovery is spreading to North America and key additional markets including Russia, and Saudi Arabia with the summer season ahead.

“As the pandemic recedes, we see clear evidence of global consumers, who’ve been stuck at home with limited entertainment options, emerging to seek out experiences that transcend the ordinary.”