Four Theories on the Decline of 3D Cinema: Lessons for Revival?

  • In 2010 Hollywood studios released what Slate refers to as “a run of record-smashing, premium-priced blockbusters: ‘Avatar,’ ‘Alice in Wonderland,’ ‘How to Train Your Dragon,’ ‘Clash of the Titans,’ ‘Shrek Forever After,’ and ‘Toy Story 3’ — a half-dozen 3D movies that earned more than $2 billion in domestic sales.”
  • However, while the new generation of 3D cinema showed initial box office promise, the next wave of 3D movies have grossed significantly less than their 2D versions.
  • Slate takes a compelling look at some of the reasons 3D has recently become less popular with theatergoers and, in the process, provides information that could help revive the format.
  • Theater chains, for example, raised their prices for 3D screenings by 20 percent or more, while the 3D trend was already showing signs of decline. PricewaterhouseCoopers has suggested that 3D could revive if the chains limited their premium to a couple of dollars.
  • Some film studios applied 3D “purely for the profit motive,” as James Cameron has been quoted. Films were converted to 3D instead of being produced in 3D from the start, a technology “cheat” that some believe led to viewer disappointment.
  • Additionally, shrewd consumers may not always feel that the 3D experience is worth the extra price, especially if the 3D is designed to be unobtrusive. Film critic A. O. Scott pointed out this is “one of the pitfalls of that format, which is that if the 3D is unobtrusive enough that you don’t really notice it, you may as well forego the disposable glasses and the surcharge that comes with them.”
  • And the final theory offered by Slate involves “hack” filmmakers who have applied 3D to a string of bad movies, which may have been the same reason 3D died in the 1950s.
  • It’s interesting to note that on the heels of the Slate article, a 3D re-release topped the box office this past weekend. An enhanced version of Disney’s “The Lion King” earned $29.3 million (with 92 percent of the gross from 3D screens). This is the third time the 1994 film has been widely screened in theaters, but the first time a 3D version has been available. Was earning more in weekend ticket sales than the other three newcomers combined the result of nostalgia or the first-time availability of a 3D version?