What the Hell is an ‘IMAX Experience’ and Why Should You Care?

Published on December th, 2011

These days the word IMAX is thrown around quite a bit. Too much really. How so, you ask? Well, there’s a growing trend that began a few years ago involving nearly-average sized movie screens being billed as IMAX Experiences. What’s the difference between an IMAX and IMAX Experience screen? A whole hell of a lot actually. For instance, if you were to go to one of these IMAX Experience screens, you’d be paying the same amount as a regular IMAX ticket (roughly $15) to view a movie on a screen that’s not even close to regulation IMAX size. Let’s face it. That’s a fucking rip off. In an IMAX Experience theater, you’ll be paying a five to six dollar premium and getting a beefed up sound system on a slightly larger-than-average sized screen with digital projection. Nothing more.

Why is this such a big deal? Because theaters with IMAX Experience screens don’t expect you to know the difference before buying a ticket, and they certainly don’t expect you to research it before you’re reaching for your wallet. And you can be damn sure they won’t advertise that their IMAX Experience screens aren’t really IMAX screens. Why would they? They’re making bank off of a regular screen without having to make any kind of investment in a real IMAX screen. It’s the most dishonest, unethical, and widespread trend in the realm of film exhibition. So just how big of a difference is there between the two screen sizes?

The average IMAX movie theater screens measure 97′ wide by 76′ high. The smaller IMAX Experience screens can have screen sizes up to 58′ wide by 28′ high, which is slightly larger than your average movie screen. Here’s a comparison of what that difference in size looks like:

The large projection, and high quality exhibition is the whole reason for the IMAX system existing. If you bought an iPad from some online retailer only to receive some cheap Chinese knock-off, you’d be pretty pissed, right? I’m guessing you wouldn’t take it laying down. You’d demand the real thing or your money back. The only difference between this analogy and the IMAX Experience, is that most online retailers would punish the seller for not being clear about the product being sold.

IMAX films were shot on 70mm film stock and are meant to be projected on a screen that showcases all of the detail captured on the massive frames of film. A standard movie is shot on 35mm film stock, which looks something like this when placed next to a 70mm IMAX frame of film:

A frame of standard 35mm film is ten times smaller than a frame of 70mm IMAX film. Having the 70mm film crushed down to a medium sized screen is bad enough, But to charge customers the same ticket price as a full IMAX presentation should be a crime. I’ve never once seen a disclaimer anywhere at an IMAX Experience theater explaining that screen in question wasn’t truly IMAX. If you can find a disclaimer at your local LIEMAX theater, well then, you’d be the first.

Before paying for a marked up IMAX Experience ticket, make sure you research the theater beforehand. The best way to fight the unethical trend, is to simply avoid any IMAX Experience screens in your town and instead opt to drive a bit further for the real deal. Either that or skip the IMAX thing altogether. I don’t want you to go blaming the sketchy business practice solely on IMAX though. The fault primarily lies with the exhibitors, who want to snag a few extra bucks without making an investment in the real deal. Do your part by avoiding the fakes, spreading the word, and only supporting true IMAX screens.


  • KentMauresmo

    Thanks! This is good info. Going to see the Dark Knight Rises on the real IMAX. Haha

  • John

    Very good stuff. I was wanting to see the Dark Knight rises in my home town found out the screen is only 40’X52′. What a bummer? Where do I go? In SC?

    • breezzy95

      There is one by the citadel mall address is 2072 Sam rittenberg Boulevard Charleston South Carolina 29414

  • Simon

    Great article! Only wished I read this before going to see Dark Knight Rises IMAX Experience in New Brunswick, NJ. After seeing the movie, I kept wondering what all the fuss was about IMAX – the only differences were that the screens seemed slightly larger and the sound was loud. I realize now that we got the “IMAX Experience” and will steer clear of these theaters that claim they have it in IMAX.

  • LSE

    Nice Article. I experienced Dark Night rises in “Liemax” yesterday in NJ. Thank you for explaining the difference between Lie MAX and real IMAX. To my knowledge and from what i can find in google. There are only two theatres that project IMAX film in NJ – 1) Liberty Science Center 2)Tropicana in Atlantic city. Please check for real imax in your city before you end up in a lie max.

  • RJ

    FYI, the only true IMAX theatre in WA State is at the Pacific Science Center in Seattle. Having viewed 3D films on a regular 3D screen, a LIEMAX 3d screen, and the true IMAX 3D, I can say that true IMAX 3D is amazing (and at the PSC, it still was only $14 per ticket), but the LIE-MAX is a rip-off. Save your money and just watch in regular 3D. 🙂

  • Ro Smith

    My husband and I just got our money back from a lie imax AMC here in Torrance, Ca for Rebo Cop it’s a shame and the theaters should not ba able do to this..please people boycott these lie imax theatres isn’t the $75 lb popcorn and $20 soda enough ripoff!!!

  • Great explanation. In your opinion, is it truly worth the premium price? And I am glad to live near two Real Imax screens. One is in downtown Indianapolis at the State Museum and the other is just around the corner at the Hamilton IMax theater. The screen is two stories tall. Thanks for reminding me. It is an extra $7. For some shows. Hope itvos worth it. The Dark Knight is the only IMac Experience movie I have seen. Felt like I was really moving during some scenes.

  • arslonga vitabrevis

    You can go to Imax.com and do a search for the real thing. Definitely not enough of the real theaters around. I don’t understand why the real Imax people don’t do anything about the counterfeits. Went to one as a kid and the screen was curved and of several screens, all huge. Surround sound is a part of it where the audio moves around you coming from different speakers, if I remember right. I don’t know, I was just a kid. My dad had patents in some of this stuff, loved it. I don’t know the particulars, but just read Forbes, Matt Schifrin’s, article on investments and Imax is listed as his recommended small cap growth stock as “one of the world’s leading entertainment technology companies”. About 1,000 theaters world wide now. (My dad was always on the road) It is expected to take off in China. If you don’t have one near you complain to your local theater owners and pester Imax to get one in the area. You could also invest in the company by buying stocks which should be at least stable if not, good. I am thinking about it. As I was told, when the economy gets bad people still watch movies to escape reality. All in all, if all goes good for Imax those liemaxs may one day be Imax. But don’t go easy on them until they are.