Since the first frame of Into the deep projected on the six-story screen, countless visitors to the Tennessee Aquarium IMAX 3D Theater have taken cinematic journeys into outer space, beneath the surface of the earth, back in time and into the deepest depths of the ocean.
Well … used to be countless.
Today the theater celebrated the arrival of its 9 millionth guest since it opened on May 1, 1996. Amanda Brock and her daughter Lenie Kate came to the theater from Dalton, Georgia to see Sea Lions: Life by Mustache 3D.
“This is our first time at IMAX,” says Amanda. “We’ve been to the Tennessee Aquarium many times, but this is our first time seeing a movie.”
To celebrate her pioneering contribution to Chattanooga’s first 3D theater, Amanda was treated to a celebratory gift box. The aquarium filled it with coupons for a two-night stay at the Chattanooga Hotel, a family four-pack of Tennessee Aquarium and IMAX 3D Theater passes, and gifts from the Chattanooga Tourism Company, including a VIP pass to more than a dozen attractions in the Chattanooga area.
Guests like Amanda and Lenie have flocked to the IMAX 3D Theater for the past 26 years, drawn by the excitement of seeing movies on the largest screen in Chattanooga—a 6,000-square-foot behemoth—but also consistently experience state-of-the-art cinema technology.
Today, 3D film screenings are largely commonplace, but when the Aquarium’s theater opened in 1996, it was the only 3D-capable cinema in the area. The closest place to experience the immersive qualities of true color 3D movies was 500 miles away in New Orleans.
Despite advances in digital projection technology in the 2010s, the IMAX 3D theater was one of the last remnants of the Scenic City for physical film projection. That all changed in 2016 when the theater underwent a major overhaul that upgraded the projection system to IMAX with laser. This unrivaled video and audio suite features 12-channel sound and two 4K laser projectors, a facility only used by 14 other cinemas worldwide at the time of its installation.
Forward-thinking and the strategic adoption of new and innovative technologies have been key to the theater’s popularity and continued success, says Gordon Stalans, the aquarium’s chief financial officer and chief information officer.
“We’ve always felt that we needed to stay on top and keep the theater as current as possible,” says Stalans, who was formerly the executive chairman of the Giant Screen Cinema Association. “Many of our guests come to the theater looking for something to complement their aquarium visit and this is a natural fit.
“This is a top-notch movie experience and people have always appreciated that experience, especially since the upgrade to IMAX with laser.”
In addition to its popular shorter format showings of nature and adventure films, the IMAX 3D theater has recently begun showing first series of feature films such as: Top Gun: Maverick, Spider-Man: No Way Home and dune. The current offer of the theater includes Sea Lions: Life at Mustache 3D, wings over water 3D, and Black Panther: Wakanda Forever (Showing daily until Nov. 27).
For more details on what’s on offer at the IMAX 3D Theater, including a showing schedule and advance ticket sales, go to tnaqua.org/imax.
The Tennessee Aquarium and Tennessee Aquarium IMAX 3D Theater are open daily but will be closed on Thanksgiving – Thursday, November 24th.
Based on the numbers
- 9,993 – number of performances of the theatre’s longest-running offering, Into the deep
- 5,874 – Size in square feet of the Tennessee Aquarium IMAX 3D Theater screen
- 2.8 – how much bigger the screen is than the average Chattanooga home
- 14 – Number of theaters worldwide using IMAX with laser projection when IMAX 3D theater started doing so in 2016
- 9,600 – approximate number of days the theater has been operational since opening
- 3 – Time in weeks until the theater will be upgraded to an IMAX with laser projection system
- $14 million – cost of building the theater in 1996 ($25.4 million, adjusted for inflation)
The five top-grossing films shown at the IMAX 3D theater are:
- Into the deep
- Ocean Wonderland
- t rex
- Deep Sea 3D
- Sharks 3D