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Over the last few years, and particularly since Avatar hit the big screen seven months ago, display manufacturers and the film industry have been yammering to anyone that would listen that 3D technology is The Next Big Thing. Investors and analysts have cautiously warned against embracing the concept that 3D would reinvigorate theaters and profit margins; new evidence suggests consumer interest in 3D films is falling much more quickly than previously expected.

A recent story from Slate dug into revenue data from multiple angles; its finding aren't encouraging. First, let's examine how much of a film's revenue came from 3D theatres during its opening weekend.

If we exclude Step Up 3D and Pirhana 3D, both of which opened in a higher percentage of 3D-equipped theatres, the trend is clearly downward; from Avatar to Incredible Me 3D cinemas fall from generating 71 percent of opening weekend earnings to just 45 percent. This graph doesn't necessarily say much about consumer demand; a fact 3D backers have been quick to point out. When tackled from other angles, however, the available information looks just as bad or worse. When Avatar debuted, a theater owner who upgraded a 2D showing to a 3D showing would have earned himself an additional 70 percent in profit. A theatre owner considering the same tactic when screening Despicable Me would have increased his profits by just 2 percent.

Considered over a longer period of time, even Avatar's rate of return for 3D vs 2D is pitiful.

Graph courtesy of Slate: Put in context, Avatar doesn't even match Beowulf

We recommend you read the whole story if you're interested in the 3D industry; it's an excellent piece. If the trends discussed above continue, 3D films may continue to serve a niche audience of kids, IMAX fans, and a handful of dedicated enthusiasts, but they'll never take over as the dominant medium. Things could change—the above trends could reverse—but if historical precedent is any indication, they won't.

All Of This Has Happened Before. And Before. And Once Before That.

When most people think of 3D movies they think of the corny films from the 1950s. While it's true that the 1950s represent a sort-of golden age for 3D films, the first stereoscopic movie was actually shown in 1922, nearly 90 years ago. 3D film technology slowly improved over the next 25 years, but the format didn't find mass market acceptance until 1952. From 1952-early 1955 a number of excellent 3D films were released, but the genre suffered from low-quality viewing conditions, misaligned frames (which could cause headaches) and the need to keep both prints in pristine condition. After the craze fell off the technology again went mostly dormant.

New single-strip 3D surfaced in the 1970s, but was used in just a handful of movies, almost all of which were hardcore porn, softcore porn, horror, or all three. Although a limited number of films were made, this period is typically seen as a 3D revival. IMAX revived the use of 3D in the mid-1980s; it was mostly used for specialty shows at places like Disneyworld or in IMAX's various film productions. That brings us up to 2004 and the release of The Polar Express, shown on the graph above.

In every case, consumer interest in 3D viewing has waxed and waned in a manner of years. Each time 3D has surfaced the technology has been substantially better—a fact that's never prevented the style from sinking back to obscurity a short time later. Despite considerable advances, there's still a significant percentage of people (including myself) who either have vision defects that prevent them from seeing 3D properly or suffer from extreme nausea when attempting to view a film.

Studios have fallen all over themselves to charge premium pricing for 3D films, while theatres, not content with ripping off patrons with $9 tickets and $30 popcorn, tack on a $3-$6 charge of their own. We don't know anything about pricing on 3D Blu-ray films as yet, it's virtually certain that they'll be positioned, at least initially, as higher-priced premium versions of a movie.

Furthermore, Not all 3D films are created equal (Clash of The Titans was particularly bad). This indicates that studios are already adopting 3D as a way to potentially boost sales and make a few more bucks without actually bothering to create a decent-looking movie. We're not alone in seeing such half-assed conversions as a threat—James Cameron has expressed concern that lousy "2.5D" movies could sink the format.

Television manufacturers have it pretty easy. Even if consumers never charge out to buy 3D screens en masse, they'll continue to replace / update their televisions at a regular rate. Once 3D technology is ubiquitous enough, anyone buying a new TV will be buying a 3D TV. The movie industry has no such luxury—if consumers stop filling 3D theaters and buying premium 3D movies, the golden goose will turn to lead in a hurry. Based on what we're seeing now, that day may be closer than anyone thought. 

And it is about damn time it went away again. 3D movies are a gimmick to charge more money for rapidly spit out drivel. I’m one of those before mentioned people who has eye problems (VMPD to be exact) which causes 3D to both not work well for me and makes me sick. Not to mention that after watching several of the films in 2D, they suck pretty badly.


It's sad because when it's done properly, it's absolutely brilliant. Avatar aside, I saw Coraline both in 2D and 3D. In 2D is was a great film, but in 3D, it was as if the puppets were literally there in front of me, and made the movie so much better by adding to the atmosphere. If Hollywood continued to deliver high quality 3D like that, it would stay afloat, but as Cameron said, the shoddy 2.5D movies, or those that simply stick effects in your face for shock factor are ruining it for the studios and directors that really put in some effort.


LOL i loved the movie "Incredible Me"!!!... :D

Would the so so called new Avatar bring the status up again? 🙂 Can't believe they add a few new scenes and release it again. But many people like me don't see the point in paying more to see it in 3D, i don't see much of a difference as its still a movie and as long as you enjoy, it would still be a great movie!


i've never really seen the point of 3D. yes it looks cool, and can add realism to a movie, but i am one of those people who goes to a movie for the story. realism, and even picture quality are a far second place to storytelling for me. maybe its because i'm one of the shrinking number of people who have the attention span to read a book...


Inspector? Are you talking about the new female fragrance from Escada?

If that trailer was in 3D, it would really look like she was going up and grabbing a pair of...

I liked Despicable Me as well. The short format of most animated movies fits perfectly for 3D, it is just short enough to not give you a headache. I am just wondering how long it will take them to put some kinda screen in front of the screen to negate those glasses.

Hollywood knows its a gimmick, and most understand to use it when it helps to progress the story. Robert Zemeckis understands this, that is why he puts subtle hints in his movies. In BTTF, remember that one in three of Biffs gang wore his 3D glasses to show the craze from the fiddys:P

This is why I have argued the point before that this is something that we as the consumers should not be paying for! If they feel they need this to illustrate the story then include it! I just cant wait to see how they are going to rape people with the roll out of Avatar on Blu-Ray? I am sure they are going to make people go buy a new format TV, New format BR player& glasses, plus the 100dollar disc itself:P

Zemeckis had a good way of pointing out the irony in life! Much "like stupid is as stupid does", The one that really rings true is "Life is like a box of never know what one will be made of puppy poop:P


I usually take the opportunity to see a movie in 3d when available. From my experience, its hit or miss. I also saw Coraline in 3d and it was awesome. Avatar was pretty good, but I didn't really like the storyline. I could not tell that Toy Story was 3d at all, however I did not see it in 2d. Most of the movies that come out 3d are ones that I would not go see anyway, like Piranha. I see more of a continuing market in 3d gaming, but I will continue to spend the extra $4 to take advantage of the extra camera/efforts used in producing a 3d film.


@animatortom: Yes i am talking about the new fragrance O.o lol... I liked the way they say Escada 😃.