The 3-D Backlash Continues as Audiences Reject Higher Prices
June 1, 2011

In today’s uncertain media product landscape, it shouldn’t be surprising that producers of content are seizing at whatever trend comes their way. In movies, it’s been 3-D — which allows theaters to charge higher prices for blockbusters, some of which are well-designed for the format, and others of which are badly retro-fitted just to jump on the trend and get that increased income from fewer tickets.

Now, it seems that customers have gotten wise to the gimmick and are rebelling. (Those darn customers! Won’t do what the money-makers want!) The NY Times recently ran an article comparing ticket percentages between 3-D and 2-D versions based on the disappointing opening of the fourth Pirates of the Caribbean movie, which did not break $100 million in its first U.S. weekend.

Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, which cost Walt Disney Studios an estimated $400 million to make and market, did poor 3-D business in North America. While event movies have typically done 60 percent of their business in 3-D, Stranger Tides sold just 47 percent in 3-D. “The American consumer is rejecting 3-D,” Richard Greenfield, an analyst at the financial services company BTIG, wrote of the Stranger Tides results.

The article goes on to say that Kung Fu Panda 2 only did $53.8 for its Memorial Day weekend opening, with 3-D making up 45% of that total. I find this consideration of quality refreshing:

Consumer rebellion over high 3-D ticket prices plays a role, and the novelty of putting on the funny glasses is wearing off, analysts say. But there is also a deeper problem: 3-D has provided an enormous boost to the strongest films, including Avatar and Alice in Wonderland, but has actually undercut middling movies that are trying to milk the format for extra dollars.

Look at that! Better movies do better! Yet note that 3-D is still a novelty in other countries, where burnout has yet to occur. Stranger Tides opened with $256 million overseas, which Disney called “the biggest international debut of all time”. Studios have to be counting on more results like that, since 16 3-D movies are scheduled for this summer, including Transformers: Dark of the Moon and the final Harry Potter film, and the box office is now structured such that 70% of total income comes from outside North America.

On a personal basis, I can say that in my case, the novelty has worn off. Instead of excitement, 3-D makes me think the movie will be too dark and headache-inducing. I’d much rather see a 2-D version. And before this article gets 3-D dislikers too excited, note that I was also writing about a 3-D backlash over a year ago. But that was before customers started putting their money behind their preferences.

14 Responses  
Ed Catto writes:  

I agree 100%. We sought out the 2-D versions of Thor and Pirates. And it wasn’t because I’m a cheapskate. (Although that’s not totally untrue). We liked both pictures and the 2-D experience was still wonderful!

lovelyduckie writes:  

You know, I actually have only seen one movie in theaters in 3-D and that happened to be Coraline. I don’t go to the movies that often lol. Usually a highly rated kids film will get me there though. These days I prefer to watch movies in blu-ray from the comfort of my home on my big TV :)

Chris Howard writes:  

I’ll be seeking out the 2D version of Deathly Hallows.

Jennifer Hachigian writes:  

I have no problem watching films in 3D if they were originally shot or rendered in 3D (CORALINE, most of AVATAR, KUNG-FU PANDA 2). The best 3D films make good use of the 3D space. CORALINE, for example, used shallow depth for the “real world” scenes and deeper depth for the “other world” scenes.

However, I avoid 2D-to-3D stereo conversions. They rarely look as good as something actually shot/rendered in 3D.

Chris G. writes:  

With a movie like Kung-Fu Panda 2, you also have parents who seek out the 2-D showings because their kids are too small to sit wearing glasses for a couple of hours.

Ray Cornwall writes:  

I think I’m going to go this route. I saw Thor in 3D, and I felt like I got cheated. I think I would have enjoyed it more in 2D. Oh well, there’s always the Blu-Ray!

Jamie Coville writes:  

I think people are rejecting 3D because of movies like Green Hornet and Thor that benefited very little from being in 3D. I’m tired of paying extra money to see a movie and getting very little in return. I think the theatre’s have invested in the 3D film equipment and are demanding 3D movies to make their return, thus movie studios and pumping out “3D” movies so they’ve got something to show. I don’t think I’m going to bother with another 3D movie until James Cameron or somebody who really gives a shit makes one.

Johanna writes:  

Jennifer, good point — although sometimes it’s hard to know which films are which, unless you read a lot about them beforehand and risk spoilers.

Jay writes:  

Count me (and my family) as part of the rebellion against the onslaught of 3D. We actively sought out 2D versions of both Pirates and Kung Fu Panda 2 for the sole reason of wanting better image quality. (Even if they were the same price, we would have gone for 2D.)

Hate, hate, hate the fact that the local IMAX is almost exclusively showing 3D versions. I’ll happily pay for the IMAX experience — but not the poorer 3D (except, of course, for an “event” movie like Avatar or even something like How to Train your Dragon).

Kat Kan writes:  

I prefer the 2D versions as well, partly because I hate having to put those darned 3D glasses over my own glasses and have my glasses smashed up against my face for the duration of the movie – it’s very distracting and uncomfortable.

Jennifer Hachigian writes:  

@Johanna – true. Right now my husband and I use this as a general guide:

Stop-motion and CG animated feature films from big studios (CORALINE, TANGLED) — see the 3D version, because it was shot/rendered and composed in true 3D.

Spectaculars that have large sections of 100%-CG rendered sequences (AVATAR, TRON LEGACY) — see the 3D version for the true-3D rendered sections.

Films that use live-action for most of the film (THOR, CLASH OF THE TITANS, PIRAHNA) — assume that the 3D version is a “2D-to-3D” conversion. Avoid the 3D version unless a quick Google search succeeds in linking the phrase “shot in 3D” to the title. ;^D

Johanna writes:  

Thanks for that — those are easy guidelines to follow that make sense. And yes, Kat, that bothers me too.

Alex writes:  

My general guide: 2-D movies look better than 3-D movies. No exceptions. The colors are more vivid, the images sharper. If the film was shot for 3-D, cool – it makes the 2-D version look better. I’m annoyed by those looking at the success of Harry Potter as vindication of 3-D. Never mind they could have made it in claymation and it would still have made a billion dollars. I’ll be seeing it in 2-D if at all possible (and if no theatres show it as such in my area, I’ll wait for the Blu-ray to come out in a couple months). It’ll be interesting to see what the percentages are in terms of 3-D vs 2-D viewership as most Potter fan sites I’ve seen have been warning people away from the 3-D version (too dark being the apparent consensus).

Has Greed Killed 3-D Already? » DVDs Worth Watching writes:  

[…] is that it’s appeared so quickly. At the beginning of this summer, the coverage dealt with declining 3-D ticket sales, based on higher prices in a bad economy. Now, people — at least that writer — are […]


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