3-D boom going bust?

posted by CSWalczak on August 4, 2010 at 7:45 am

HOLLYWOOD, CA – High ticket prices, poor quality films, and customer complaints about image quality are causing increasing numbers of cinema patrons to avoid much of the recent crop of 3-D films. This article at CNN.com takes a look at the apparent declining customer interest.

A river of schlocky films certainly doesn’t help boost attendance, but a river of overpriced, 3-D schlock may actually be steepening the decline. A July survey of more than 2,000 moviegoers by BTIG LLC, a broker-dealer firm, found increasing chafe at the high cost of 3-D films, which tend to carry around a $4 surcharge. That brings a $9 children’s ticket to see, say, Despicable Me, up to $13 in New York City — a despicable premium for a product that often provides little additional value to the movie-going experience, and may even detract from it.

Movie studios have never really risked broad consumer revolt against theatergoing because ticket prices have remained relatively low. Sure, theater attendance has suffered from a few slings and arrows, including the rise of the DVD and the increasing ease of online downloads. But the rollout of improved 3-D technology again gave the multiplex an edge, because the viewing experience could not be replicated at home.

Comments (31)

markp on August 4, 2010 at 8:31 am

I could have told you this was coming. To those who INSIST Film is dead, better wait just a while longer.

markp on August 4, 2010 at 8:36 am

And WHY is it that they insist on making all the kids movies in 3D?? Little kids who go to see “Toy Story” or any movie like that could care less about 3D and wearing glasses. They want to see Woody and Buzz. And if were subjecting these small kids to 3D, the next generation will be nothing but a bunch of cross-eyed folks ALL wearing glasses just to see straight.

JodarMovieFan on August 4, 2010 at 8:48 am

If the movie is good, they will come. You’d need an Avatar-like movie to bring em in. But when you do the Shrek 4 trick and jack up 3D/Imax-lite pricing to $16 then they won’t.

I saw Airbender in 3D and that movie was awful. The 3D was obviously an afterthought and it looked it. If it weren’t for the fact I was redeeming a free ticket voucher (but paid $3 for 3D) and had seen almost all the other movies on the marquee, I would have skipped it.

BradE41 on August 4, 2010 at 8:53 am

I hope it is dying. It is a gimick and nothing more. If Hollywood would start being creative again they would not need to hide bad films under 3D. I hate it and always have.

William on August 4, 2010 at 9:09 am

Poor films killed the last two 3D product pushes. (1950’s and 1980’s)

John Fink
John Fink on August 4, 2010 at 9:11 am

I think what people are getting frustrated by is how little some 3-D films offer in terms of 3-D. It’s a gimick for sure – it should be embrassed as such – I want pies flying in my face, damn it! After the horror of “converted 3-D” films including Alice in Wonderland, Clash of the Titans, and The Last Airbender 3-D that wasted a perfectly good dimention it’s no wonder people aren’t lining up to see Cats & Dogs 2, a sequel no one asked for.

Despicable Me, however is one of the best uses of 3-D I’ve ever seen as well as a fun film. It should be a textbook on how to use it properly and if you notice the box office is healthy for it: again proving you have to first make a good film that considers the complexities of a film language like 3-D and what it can do. Despicable Me succeeds because it has fun with itself, without that third dimension it would still be a witty flick.

Although I don’t think it’ll be a huge hit, I have some hope for Step Up 3-D which I think will be a good use of the 3-D or at least from what I’ve seen, those movies are fun gimmicks on their own – perhaps if it succeeds we’ll get You Got Served 2 in 3-D (couldn’t be any worse than the first one).

Re: JordarMovieFan – some chains won’t let you “upgrade” to 3-D using a voucher, part of my frustration is Regal is the only game in town for Step Up 3-D and I’m going to pay $14 for it – painful if it sucks. (Our local AMC has $4.50 flicks during the week – with a $3 upcharge – $7.50 for 3-D is good deal).

As for systems, any preferences? I’ve seen Real D in both the sony 4K solution (where the 4K file is split into 2 2K files and projected simultaneously) which delivers good brightness, single beam Real D (NEC, Christie 2K) and Dolby Digital 3-D. Anybody else know of another theater with Technicolor’s 35 film based 3-D aside from Bow Tie Cinemas and Apple Valley in RI? I want to see that one in action next (before 3-D dies, lol).

Eric Friedmann
Eric Friedmann on August 4, 2010 at 9:32 am

Gimmicks do NOT make better films. They’re just gimmicks!

Eric Friedmann
Eric Friedmann on August 4, 2010 at 9:34 am

By the way, please take a moment to read my post for AVATAR and the theatrical 3D experience on my movie blog…


I appreciate your comments. Thanks.

JRS40 on August 4, 2010 at 10:18 am

Would filmgoers really suffer if there was no PIRANHA 3-D or SAW 3-D? And I agree with the above poster on animated films being in 3-D. The ONLY reason for that is the inflated ticket prices. Little kids certainly wouldn’t be aware of what they were missing in 2-D. This is just one big scam by the studios and I can’t wait for it to end. In the meantime may the studios at least have enough sense not to turn 2-D films into 3-D during post production. That just announces “Rip-off” to the public.

vic1964 on August 4, 2010 at 10:36 am

I like the blog and pretty much agree on Avatar.I ran Avatar in 35mm for a couple weeks and compared the 3d real d with the 35mm.
My conclusion was that the 3d was very cool and effective but the 35mm blew it away if you still cared about picture quality!The color,contrast and clarity was stunning for a digital transfer to film!
In 3d you get this cool 3d effect that is better than expected but you lose everything else!The masses would not know what they missed in 35mm because they drank the 3d kool aid but i think it’s wearing off a bit and maybe with directors like Chris Nolan film can hang a while!

Eric Friedmann
Eric Friedmann on August 4, 2010 at 10:59 am

Thanks, vic1964. Please feel free to make your comment on the blog. Comments makes the blog look better.

Chris Utley
Chris Utley on August 4, 2010 at 11:05 am

This year I’ve only paid $$$ to see Avatar, How To Train Your Dragon, Clash of the Titans & Despicable Me in 3D. The rest of that stuff I’ve seen in 2D…and all the summer movies (except Despicable Me) at the drive-in. I got my whole family of 4 in to see Toy Story 3, Shrek 4 & Last Airbender for the price of 1 IMAX ticket! SWEET!

For the rest of the year, I only plan to see Harry Potter & Tron Legacy in 3D.

moviebuff82 on August 4, 2010 at 12:10 pm

Don’t forget that Yogi Bear will be in 3D. Yuck.

terrywade on August 4, 2010 at 1:32 pm

What about all the eye infections people are getting from some 3-D glasses? The theatre owners don’t tell you about because some of the 3-D glasses need to be returned and washed before the next show. Some cost the movie cinema owners $17 each for the un wraped 3-D glasses.I have seen some of the candy people do this fast clean of the glasses before the next show. Bring back true 70mm on a big curved screen. The new films in Imax are just blow up’s from 35mm or digital video CinemaScope and only the middle part of the big Imax screen is used. They take your extra Imax money but you only see part of the big screen. A big rip off. 3-D will only make It if the film was shot in 3-D and not a poor 2-D make over. The public is smart,they like the true 3-D effect and will pay extra to see things come out at them or have good depth. Stop making 3-D animation for kids, adults want to see regular films in 3-D. Not every new movie needs to be with the Third Diminsion Experience!

Chris Utley
Chris Utley on August 4, 2010 at 1:47 pm

Why not sell those 3D glasses wholesale and charge 2 different pricing structures – $13 a person without glasses & $17 with glasses. Win-win for all involved.

KenLayton on August 4, 2010 at 3:44 pm





Mike Rogers
Mike Rogers on August 4, 2010 at 5:54 pm

Do we have filmmakers any more that can just make movie without all the gimmicks ? Oh, I should have know better, your moviegoing population is mainly between the ages of 14 and 24.

John Fink
John Fink on August 4, 2010 at 6:21 pm

Well there is a school of thought that argues that 3-D when used subtly can function as another tense of film grammar. It’s alarming that notable Hollywood filmmakers have embraced and signed on to direct 3-D films, but I don’t think it can transcend its function as a gimmick. Subtly I think is not why we pay an extra $2-5 for 3-D and thus we have this backlash.

To comment on the gimmicks – they’re nothing new – and now we have D-BOX with seats that rumble. I have to say I was suppressed at this technology and I admit it works for films of a certain style. I had a fun time seeing Inception in D-BOX – whereas I preferred seeing Toy Story 3 in 2-D (I saw it in IMAX and 35MM). I would argue that filmmakers don’t need gimmicks to be engaging, however the very nature of narrative story telling is built on gimmicks – what is a Mcguffins but a gimmick of sorts that advances a plot forward.

I’m all for immersive technologies, the boundaries of cinema/moving image have been pushed in other areas such as gallery instillations and perhaps the paradigm of the theater is shifting or at least the perception is forced to change through branding which may or may not work (ie: IMAX, XD, ETX, RPX, Ultra AVX…). I think cinematic language needs to evolve and I think I might ultimately do some research in the area of IMAX as a film language that never fully developed: the grammar in a MacGillivray Freeman doc varies from a Hollywood IMAX film. Christopher Nolan’s use of IMAX in the Dark Knight is also worth exploring – it’s both a spectacle (when seen in a “legacy IMAX”) and a language.

As for 3-D, it’s has always been a spectacle and never properly considered as a language as the technology for creating 3-D CGI images didn’t exist in 3-D’s first outing. Therefore the technology exists but the grammar is being discovered, and I view IMAX’s early spectacles and nature docs as similar to the Lummiere Bros' early films – they existed to showcase the technology.

The technology exists now filmmakers have to do something interesting with it, I wouldn’t dismiss gimmicks and fun after all this is mainstream Hollywood filmmaking and gimmicks were used by many a master filmmaker. Perhaps 3-D can be used interestingly in the context of an art film, the brilliant experimental filmmaker Stan Brackhage did make an IMAX film. Imagine what a Matthew Barney 3-D film might be like: perhaps it would find that intersection of spectacle and gimmick.

vic1964 on August 4, 2010 at 7:10 pm

Problem is the collective forces are using 3d to push for a complete digital transition!They want 35mm to disappear from theaters forever!
Side by side harmony with film coexisting with digital is not part of the plan and this makes me crazy as do silver screens!
It would be different if digital was vastly better but i find it to be only a little better than film done wrong and junk compared to film done right!

Simon Overton
Simon Overton on August 4, 2010 at 11:08 pm

How about re-releasing some of the real classic epics in 3D; “Gone With The Wind', "Lawrence of Arabia”, “Titanic” and hundreds more!

I feel our “senior” audiences will begin to patronize the cinema again.

Edward Havens
Edward Havens on August 5, 2010 at 12:52 am

As usual, the author of yet another “3D is dying” article can’t see the forest for the trees.

Unlike years past, there has a glut of 3D titles the past few months. A Christmas Carol had six weeks to itself as the only major 3D release before Avatar took most of its 3D screens away. Avatar had nearly three months to itself before Alice in Wonderland came along. Now, movies have a week or two to maximize their 3D ticket sales before finding themselves edged out of those screens by the next 3D movie, especially since most theatres that do have 3D capabilities only have two or three 3D screens. With four 3D titles in release right now (Toy Story 3, The Last Airbender, Despicable Me and Cats and Dogs 2) and a fifth coming out this Friday (Step Up 3), it’s impossible to maximize 3D earnings potential without some cannibalization.

Imagine how many more of these types of articles are going to be written in November and early December, when there are no less than 10 3D movies scheduled between mid-October and mid-December. Of course, when Tron: Legacy kills in 3D, there’ll be a slew of “3D is back!” articles, probably written by the same people writing it off today.

John Fink
John Fink on August 5, 2010 at 7:27 am

I just got an e-mail from Film Forum about their upcoming programing – this may be of interest:

Al Alvarez
Al Alvarez on August 5, 2010 at 9:29 am

“Now, movies have a week or two to maximize their 3D ticket sales before finding themselves edged out of those screens by the next 3D movie, especially since most theatres that do have 3D capabilities only have two or three 3D screens.”

That theory would hold if each of these films had a huge opening followed by a huge drop. “Airbender”, “Despicable Me” and “Cats & Dogs” all had weak opening weekends on prime screens.

I think price gouging has been a factor. These are kid films and the family price plus popcorn can be extreme.

CSWalczak on August 5, 2010 at 6:02 pm

The idea that, as suggested by one of the comments above, that “The Last Airbender” or “Cats and Dogs” would have been hits if they had not had 3-D competition strikes me as unlikely if not laughable. 3-D cannot make a bad movie good; it can enhance a good movie if used imaginatively (and I don’t mean by a director or screenwriter thinking of new things to throw at the audience).

Vito on August 7, 2010 at 6:14 am

The same thing that happened in the 50s with 3-D two projector interlock and later in the 60s with split frame single projector 3-D The public got tired of it, and as it happened back then projection problems are taking it’s toll. In my day we had problems with
the 3-D interlocks and the 3-D glasses people hated to wear, but today it seems worse, with the digital 3-D many of the problems occur when the media is playing. The server will freeze up stopping the feature and it has to be rebooted. That takes from 5 to 20 minutes. Sometimes you have to reboot it 3-4 times. Of course this happens with 2-D movies as well and as you can imagine is very irritating to the patrons Ah progress, ya gotta love it.

CaptVonKrapp on August 7, 2010 at 8:24 am

D-Box is “seats that rumble?” I guess 3-D isn’t the only gimmick making a comeback-I remember when rumbling seats were called “Sensurround!”

Alex R.
Alex R. on August 7, 2010 at 9:13 am

I actually like the newer 3D technology. Still, I don’t feel that all movies need it. It seems appropriate for action movies and some computer generated ones. My only problem with the current tech in theaters now is that the picture is sometimes too dark to see clearly. Also, in this still depressed economy, I can’t always justify watching a movie in 3D if it’s only marginally better than the 2D version.

I’d prefer to watch most movies in a good 2D digital screen. I still like 35mm and 70mm film, but I’m spoiled by the quality that the current 2k and 4k digital projectors put out.

Edward Havens
Edward Havens on August 7, 2010 at 9:41 pm

Except Sensurround wasn’t rumbling seats. It was a precursor to what we call an LFE today.

raysson on August 10, 2010 at 3:20 pm

Who remembers when theatre chains had a bargain matinee policy where all seats were $3.00 before 6:00PM,and night admission was $5.75???
General Cinema had this policy and so did at one time Carmike.

Carmike used to have Tuesday Night Bargain where you can see a show,first-run at discount prices….

Al Alvarez
Al Alvarez on August 11, 2010 at 10:03 pm

As a manager who worked Sensurround, I can tell you it was rumbling seats for shitty films, and nothing more.

Harvey on September 3, 2010 at 8:56 pm

I recently saw “The Expendables” with DBOX.

Nobody’s missing anything. Except me. $8 extra dollars on a $7 matinee ticket.

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