Is Theatrical 3D on the Way Out?

While the inflated cost of admission into 3D theaters has proven to affect the overall financial success of 3D movies, box office returns last month have analysts a little worried about the possible collapse of 3D. Have audiences finally tired of the 3D fad, or is the whole issue overblown?

This summer’s large slate of 3D movies may wind up signaling whether the costly medium sticks around or not. No summer has ever held as many 3D titles as that of 2011. In the first month of summer blockbusters, we’ve seen four 3D titles open: ‘Thor’, ‘Priest’, ‘Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides’ and ‘Kung Fu Panda 2’. With eleven more set to open throughout June, July and August, this summer will let the studios know how audiences judge 3D – a worthy moviegoing enhancement or just another gimmick to raise ticket prices.

According to The Hollywood Reporter, whenever a film opens in both 3D and 2D formats, typically 55% to 65% of its domestic opening comes from the 3D showings. For the opening of ‘On Stranger Tides’, Disney reported that only 47% of its weekend gross came from 3D screens.

Those who want to see the demise of 3D are jumping to the conclusion that general audiences prefer standard 2D to the expensive ticket costs and the less-than-perfect 3D gimmick. They believe that the numbers will only continue to drop, signaling the death of 3D. Disney itself is attributing the low 3D gross to a marketing campaign that didn’t constantly boast the 3D aspect.

While I tend to agree with the earlier theory, both seem to be negating the facts. It’s true that, with our economy in the pot and pocket books tighter than ever, viewers may find it easier to justify seeing a movie in 2D over 3D. But is it really plausible that 3D will die off completely? If anything, Hollywood will continue do what it’s doing now: give viewers the option. Nobody is forcing anyone to see movies in 3D. You have a choice (for now). I don’t see it dying off because there are people on both sides of the 3D argument. Some love it while others hate it.

It’s true that Disney did not promote the 3D of ‘Pirates’ as much as other films have, but you cannot buy a movie ticket online without noticing the 3D option, and you cannot purchase tickets from a theater without seeing the marquee list the 3D show times. Nobody goes to a 2D showing without knowing that the movie could have been watched in 3D as well.

Not only is this summer supposed to determine how general audiences will judge 3D, it’s also supposed to show the different effects that movies shot in 3D have on the box office, as opposed to those converted to 3D in post-production.

Of the eleven 3D summer movies yet to open, five were not shot in 3D, five were, and one is an animated feature. ‘Green Lantern’, ‘Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2’, ‘Captain America: The First Avenger’, ‘The Smurfs’ and ‘Conan the Barbarian’ were not shot with 3D cameras. ‘Transformers: Dark of the Moon’, ‘Final Destination 5’, ‘Glee Live!’, ‘Fright Night’ and ‘Spy Kids 4: All the Time in the World’ were shot in 3D. Being an animated Pixar title, ‘Cars 2’ is sure to be the best-looking 3D feature of the summer.

We talk about these numbers and theories as if they’re controlled by nature, but the real way to determine what average American moviegoers want is to ask them. Personally, I’d be okay if 3D never reared its ugly head in theaters again. What do you want to see happen to 3D?


  1. I’m already tired of seeing 3D in the theaters, most of the movies I’ve seen have barely given you any 3D to notice, Pirates was a terrible 3D movie and with half of the weekend gross being hiked up because of 3D prices, it turned out to be one of the worst in the series for box office in the states (over seas is another story obviously) and thats the case with most of the movies that are 3D, the inflated ticket prices and extra money you are paying for the 3D movie isnt actually helping any of these films out to the point that its mattering a whole lot.

    I’ve only seen a few where the 3D was really good, My Bloody Valentine 3D, Avatar and Resident Evil Afterlife.

    Up, Pirates 4, Piranha 3D, The Final Destination (and more that I cant remember) havent been very good at all, the previous few had really great use of depth and making it look like you could walk into the screen, the rest hardly anything was noticeable or it was a stupid gimmick (like Piranha) and had crap popping out at the screen, to me thats not a good use of 3D as it brings nothing to the movie itself, watching Drive Angry in 2D was really bad in a few spots because certain scenes were shot to be in 3D yet dont work at all for the 2D version, it just looks stupid

    So IMO, I dont care for 3D much at all anymore, I’m to the point that I wont be seeing much of anything in 3D unless I read good reviews on it, but even then I had people saying that Pirates 4 and others had amazing 3D, yet to me it was total crap, so even then its hard to tell when everyone seems to not see this shit the same, one person says its awesome and another says its crap…..either way 3D hasnt improved my movie going/watching experience, if the movie is awesome its awesome, 3D doesnt change that

  2. I want movies where the 3D actually makes sense, and is not some gimmick added last minute in post production. i want to see theaters equipped with 4K projectors so that, by the time the resolution is halved, I can still see 2K. I want the movies to be brighter – it really does feel that I am watching movies through sunglasses at some theaters. And I want theaters to remove the 3d lenses when not in use!

    And lastly, I want my local theater to stop charging more for a 3D movie there than what I pay at the Imax for a feature-length movie. Hmmm, pay $13.50 to see Harry Potter 8 in 3D at my local theater, or pay $12 to see it at the Imax (that actually uses Imax Film, not those lie-max theaters). Hmmm. I’m thinking Imax!

    • William, in theaters, all 3D is 2k, no matter which theater you go to. The only 3D projectors that halve the resolution are the 4k models, which display the 2k left and right images simultaneously. 2k projectors with RealD and similar processes flash each eye’s 2k view sequentially one after the other.

      All of these theaters receive the same data file from the studio, which has 2k per eye.

      • Oh really? That was the major selling point of my local theater when they installed the 4K projectors! Guess I will stick with the other theater that uses Christine projectors! They look a HECK of a lot better than the Sony 4ks!

  3. motorheadache

    I think that studios really shot themselves in the foot by releasing so many crappy 3D conversions of films shot in 2D. And just look at the list of films being shown in 3D coming out this summer that weren’t shot in the format.

    Personally, I think they needed to resist the urge to do conversions on a crap-load of movies, and keep 3D as a special add-on for those that were actually shot with 3D cameras. Then, gradually, more and more movies would be shot in 3D and it may have had more success. But that is just my thoughts the matter and I’m hardly an expert on these matters.

  4. Sadly, as soon as HARRY POTTER comes out, studios will be back on the 3D bandwagon…even though that movie’s success will have nothing to do with the fact that it’s in 3D.

    • I’ve got a feeling that people are going to continue to see 2D more than 3D – especially with Harry Potter. Kung Fu Panda 2’s opening 3D percentages were ever worse than Pirates.

    • Yeah I’ll be seeing Harry Potter in 2D, so I’m one that wont be bothering with 3D, and like I said probably wont be bothering with much 3D at all anymore

  5. vihdeeohfieuhl

    Theatrical 3D is not on the way out. Both studios and theater chains will figure out a way to get 3D back into it’s groove. It’s going to start with much less 3D saturation. There should never be more than two 3D films released in a month. And one per month would be ideal. If even two are released in a month, they should be at least three weeks apart, and it should be because both of the films had some kind of need for 3D. On top of that, we need to ban all post-conversion 3D films. They are absolutely unnecessary. They look terrible. And they are an insult to the entire 3D technology. I think that they have hurt 3D more than anything.

    Theatre chains are going to eventually have to figure out that there is no reason to charge extra for 3D, and thus, lower the 3D ticket prices. It makes sense that they jacked the prices the way they did when 3D was hot and buzzed about. They were trying to capitalize on a new tecnology that the masses were flocking to. However, the majority of audience members are growing more and more educated about 3D. One of the things we understand is that once the theatre has paid to upgrade any auditorium to 3D, they make their money back instantly. It’s not like it costs them more money each time they screen a film in 3D. It was a one time upgrade expense for the projector and lense. RealD practically gives away glasses to the theatre chains. They pay almost nothing for them. And a lot of 3D auditoriums, as well as IMAX 3D, use glasses that are stored and re-used for each showing.

    When theatre’s lower the 3D ticket prices, there are no more post-conversion 3D films, and the film going market is not oversaturated with 3D movies, we will see it really take off again. I believe that most of this will happen prior to the Avatar sequels, and when they are released, you will see an 85%+ 3D share during their opening weekends.

    The fact that so many people rushed out to see 3D movies at such astonishing rates proves that the interest is there. In fact, saying the interest is there, doesn’t even do the statistics justice. There have been movies that have had around 70% of their opening weekend grosses come from 3D. This is evidence that there is definitely a demand. I say all of this without even talking about the millions of 3D televisions, blu-ray players, and projectors that have already been sold. The market simply needs some changes, and 3D will once again be king.

    • Post 3D isnt necessarily true, most like Clash of the Titans that were converted in a matter of months were awful, others like Piranha 3D that were shot with 3D in mind and converted with over a year of time put into it makes it almost un-noticeable that it was done in post, they couldnt actually film in 3D for Piranha because of the reflections in the water on the 3D cameras, so they took their time and did it right and it worked (although more for gimmick than anything)

      You cant tell me that a couple years on each Star Wars film, Titanic and so many others are gonna turn out like shit? When they spend that much time working on the conversion it will turn out just fine, the post 2 month conversions are what need to stop

      • vihdeeohfieuhl

        You’re only pointing out the obvious. Nothing you say here is profound. Clearly, I know that post conversion can be done properly, and give a 3D film the quality that it needs. What you’re not pointing out is that this is the EXCEPTION, not the RULE.

        Piranha is a good example. There was absolutely no way they could film that in 3D. The reflection was an issue, and the camera size made it impossible. When you point out movies like Titanic and the Star Wars films, you’re using examples in which years will be spent converting the film into 3D. Obviously, I wasn’t referring to this in my post. I think you know exactly what I meant. Post-conversion 3D that is performed with the sole intent of bringing in more money. No thought, time, or effort is put into it. No skill is required to do it. This type of 3D, and the resulting films that are released this way, are really hurting 3D in general.

        • EM

          Oh, brother. “We need to ban all post-conversion 3D films. They are absolutely unnecessary” is a claim that obviously leaves no room for exceptions. It’s not Chaz’s fault that you didn’t even come close to expressing what you later chose to claim to have meant all along.

          • vihdeeohfieuhl

            Give me a break. Take things a bit too literally much. It’s obvious that saying post-conversion films need to be banned is a statement that is referring to the original article, where the poor quality of such 3D movies was discussed.

    • I hope your predictions about lowering ticket prices, not releasing EVERY film in 3D and stopping all post-conversions is true, but I just don’t see it. I can’t see theaters ever killing the extra ticket cost. If 3D can make a crap movie profitable due to inflated ticket costs, the ticket price will never lower. And the Dolby Digital glasses that theaters reuse are TERRIBLE. Talk about tunnel vision, those lenses are TINY! I can never see 3D going to 85% or more unless they stop showing 3D. The fact is that TONS of people prefer the 2D and will see a movie in 2D anytime the opportunity is presented. I truly hope your predictions come true, but I don’t see it happening. Sorry to sound like a pessimist!

    • I don’t think we should say that ALL post-conversion films look bad – Alice In Wonderland and Voyage of the Dawn Tredder looked amazing in 3D. And while I haven’t seen it myself, I have heard great reviews of the Shrek movies and of Lion King and Beauty and the Beast. And I am sure that Star Wars is going to look absolutely amazing. Yeah, Lucas has me by the balls, as much as I hate him effing with his movies over and over again, I still pay to go see them and buy them in every format and edition that come out.

      I am sure Harry Potter 8 will be a good conversion, because time and money was spent on it. It is not one of those quick-conversions that was done on Last Airbender and Clash of the Titans that looked like crap.

      I guess what I am trying to say is that saying all post-conversions are bad is overgeneralizing based on a couple of bad experiences we have had. Sometimes post conversions look amazing. I have already preordered both Lion King and Beauty and the Beast and Nightmare Before Christmas in 3D, and will be at the theater when they are showing in 3D!

  6. I’ve heard from dozens of parents that their kids actually hate, or won’t wear the glasses. I bet that is partly to blame for low 3D numbers for movies like ‘Kung Fu Panda 2’.

    Plus, the studios fail to realize that there’s about 10%, or so, of the population that can’t even see 3D properly because of vision problems. Other people get sick or nauseated in them.

    • vihdeeohfieuhl

      This is not the case at all. I have children of my own. They love 3D. They love wearing the glasses. My son even asks if every movie we go to see is in 3D or IMAX 3D. He’s five-years-old! He’s a 3D snob at five! He can’t get enough of it, and again, he loves the glasses.

      I come from a large family. I have over twenty nieces and nephews. The oldest of them is almost 17. The youngest is not even one yet. The majority of the children are aged four to ten years. Every one of them loves 3D and wearing the glasses.

      Kung Fu Panda 2 simply presented no need to see it in 3D, and families are sick of paying about $12-$15 more for a family of four to see a movie in 3D.

      • Actually NO movie presents a NEED to see it in 3D, hence the numbers not favoring 3D as much as they thought it would, I havent seen one movie that made a difference to me in 3D over watching it in 2D later, I still enjoyed Avatar, I still enjoy Resident Evil Afterlife, I own Piranha as well and I love the movies, I havent missed seeing them in 3D one bit

        • vihdeeohfieuhl

          That is not true. Avatar gave audiences a legitimate need to see it in 3D. It was the only way the viewer could get the desired experience. Avatar was never made to be seen as a 2D movie.

          I would also argue that Piranha needed 3D. Obviously it wasn’t produced as an absolutely necessary 3D experience, like Avatar was, but it did present a very good reason to see it in 3D. I own it on blu-ray 3D. I’ve watched it both ways. It really suffers when not viewed in 3D.

          I would make the same statements about Resident Evil: Afterlife. There are just too many sequences that warrant 3D viewing. Don’t assume that because you are content with not experiencing these films in 3D, that it means that everybody feels the same way. Some films, such as this, present a viable reward when experiencing the film in 3D. Other films, such as Kung Fu Panda 2, do not offer any added value to the viewer, or warrant paying more to see them in 3D.

          • vihdeeohfieuhl

            Does that mean that you are too closed minded to see that some films do genuinely offer a unique experience in 3D?

            Are you actually saying that even when a film is devised with 3D in mind, and is produced and manufactured with every single aspect of it in 3D from the ground up, that it still offers no added value in 3D?

            I’m sorry, but that’s not possible. That’s as absurd as saying that a crap post-conversion 3D film like Clash of the Titans is better in 3D than it is in 2D.

          • It has nothing to do with close-mindedness. I have to see a 3D movie that looks so good that I don’t notice glitches or the glasses. Call me a purist, but I’d rather see a bright picture with a the classic film stock grain. 3D does not enhance a moviegoing experience. It does not raise the value of it. Just like the red-blue 3D of my childhood, I hope this 3D disappears. I saw Avatar in 3D. It looked fine, but when I later saw it in 2D I never once thought, ‘I wish I would have seen it in 3D again.’ No movie MUST be seen in 3D.

          • Oh gosh, are we really back to the film-grain issue? I like a little grain in my movies as well, but that doesn’t mean that every movie ever shot needs to have film grain in it. You can say that about any new technology – I am sure at one time, people didn’t like sound coming from them out of every direction, I am sure at one time people complained that color took away from the “feel” that should be a movie.

            If you want to see film grain, go see it at the dollar theater where they are still using film projectors, and buy a projector for your house and get 16mm and 35mm prints. If a director or a studio decides to shoot digitally, and release the movie digitally, that is their porogative.

          • vihdeeohfieuhl

            …but again, that’s your personal preference. You can think that Avatar looked fine in 2D all you want, but it was never intended to be viewed as a 2D film. Every last detail of the entire production was 3D from the ground, up.

            That’s why I say that trying to write off the 3D experience of a movie like Avatar is just as illogical as trying to say that a piss poor post-conversion 3D effort looks fine in 3D.

            Saying something like, “No movie must be seen in 3D.”, is just as silly as saying, “No movie must be seen in 2D”, or even, “Every movie must be seen in 3D.”

          • vihdeeohfieuhl


            I am with you 100%. If someone is really such a purist, they should avoid seeing movies at theatres that use digital projectors. They should just see every movie at the dollar theatre.

            I’ve long made statements that echo your every word here.

            It’s good to see that someone agrees.

      • EM

        It’s great that your family enjoys 3D so much, but your anecdotal evidence does not negate the anecdotal evidence Aaron gave.

    • I saw Kung Fu Panda 2 at a 2D theater. The kid I went with is legally blind in one eye, so he has no depth perception anyways. All the other kids in the theater seemed to be under the age of 5. As there are currently not kid-sized glasses (although I heard a company is supposed to be introducing them), and the target audience for Kung Fu Panda is probably the 5 and under crowd, this probably has a LOT to do with the ticket sales on this particular movie.

      • vihdeeohfieuhl

        EM, we’re not trying to negate the “evidence” of one another. We’re offering differing opinions! It just so happens that William’s statement about why Kung Fu Panda 2 most likely suffered poor 3D grosses is probably right on the money, while Aaron’s is most likely not. Why do you refer to things like evidence, and think that this is about proving something one way or the other. I was simply trying to give Aaron some personal information about knowing dozens of children personally, that really love 3D, and wearing glasses.

        Kung Fu Panda 2 is a movie that appeals to children that are not even old enough to wear glasses or see a film in 3D. This is probably the biggest reason why the 3D grosses suffered.


        They offer kids size 3D glasses at all of my local theatres now. Even our genuine IMAX theatre offered kids size IMAX 3D glasses.

  7. in my area i have a theater that if it comes in 3d it’s playing in 3D and i have a couple regal theaters that have a 2D or 3D option. until this fall i’m only going to a regal cinema and staying away from 3D. this fall a 24 screen complex opens up near me and i hope they have an option. i don’t care about 3D. i was 9 when Friday the 13 part 3 in 3D came out. i so wanted to see it. not cause it was in 3D but because the standee in the lobby looked so cool. the moving blood. sweet. sell the movie not 3D.

  8. David

    I hate 3D. It’s so distracting. I honestly feel that it impedes the moviegoing experience and enjoyment.

  9. Art0330

    The experience of seeing Avatar in 3D was a special one…and it elevated a fair movie to superior status. For many, including me, I also must travel an extra 20 minutes or so to see a 3D movie. Consequently, I will pick and chose carefully.

    We’ve sacrificed quality for convenience where we can get so much through streaming, and it becomes easier and and is a shorter wait as well to get movies at home that it behooves the “powers that be” to realize that people will go to the theater if it is an event. At home we watch Netflix streaming with inferior video and don’t even get me started on the audio loss, yet we make do.

    Indeed 3D can flourish and audiences will pay more IF;
    The movie is good to begin with!
    3D makes sense for the movie.
    The quality is superior.
    It’s used on occasion so that it’s “special”.

    In fact, I think if done right, this could reverse the trend of diminishing box office. I hope they figure it out. Last week I took and adult to the 3D version of Herzog’s documentary. Just like a kid, she was reaching out in front of her and loved the initial experience. Of course, the inferior movie soon took over and that sense of wonder quickly dissipated.

  10. EM

    I’ve enjoyed 3D presentations but am not fervent about the 3D in use. One thing that distracts me is the, well, one-dimensionality of the effect. I’m referring to the fact that moving my head back and forth or up and down doesn’t reveal additional visual information about the image. In real life, it would, at least for the closer objects. I guess what I want is something more akin to holography. The current 3D is somewhat analogous to drive-in audio coming from a single speaker on a single side of the screen.

  11. I really hope 3D doesn’t go away–I think it really adds to the film as long as they don’t get gimmicky (like in Pirates 4 with sword out to audience, etc.) I would really like to see what people choose if they charged the same price. As a test they could select one film and eliminate the surcharge for opening week for both versions and see which people choose. 3D is really the only reason why I would choose to see a movie in the theater. Otherwise, I’d rather just wait to watch at home where you don’t have to pay a fortune to watch with inconsiderate talkers and texters and sit through hours of ads.

  12. Depends on the movie and if I hear the 3-D is good. I still prefer 2-D for most movies. Avatar set the standard and I don’t think anyone has beat it.

  13. Eric

    I’m kind of riding the fence on this one. I enjoyed Avatar both in 3d and 2d. I definitely think the over-saturation has spoiled the medium, but man a good 3d on a really cheesy horror movie is awesome. My friend and I had an amazing time at The My Bloody Valentine remake, even though that movie was atrocious. The script and acting are laughable, but the scene where the policeman’s jaw comes flying at the screen should be seen by every horror fan. Similarly, I absolutely enjoyed Pirahna more in 3d than I have on blu-ray 2d. The problem is that for every good 3d movie, there are at least a dozen really shoddy ones. I hope 3d doesn’t go away completely, but is seriously tempered in the future.

  14. Tony b

    For me, the simple fact is that my eyesight is not good enough to benefit from 3D. So I simply will not pay – I have tried watching but just doesn’t work, yet movie studios seem quite happy to make it harder to see some shows in 2D as my local multiplex has just completely reduced 2D showings to maximise profits.

    I hope 3D works for some movies going forward but at it’s core it is a gimmick and if a story and acting are good then it will be good in both formats.

    Personally as my local flix are charging £13.50 per ticket for pirates 3D I will be waiting to watch on standard blu ray instead.

  15. “Thor” and “Priest” weren’t even given the 3D option in our multiplex. “Pirates…” and “Kung Fu Panda 2” were, though. I have to say that I did notice that there is a lesser number of movies with 3D option these days, at least here…

    • EM

      Would I be far off the mark in guessing that you are in Serbia? If you are in a country other than the US, are Thor and Priest being distributed in 3D there at all?

  16. The annoying thing here in the UK (from my experience, anyway), is that 3D is being pushed so much that’s it’s near impossible to see the 2D version of a film except at maybe one time during the day, and the rest of the showings are 3D. So we don’t get much choice.

    I personally don’t care for 3D. It adds little-to-nothing to the film experience, and in many cases detracts.

    I don’t think it will ever fully go away now, but I do think its popularity will probably wane to a trickle of CG kids movies and such. It may become more standard once some form of glasses-free system becomes available in the cinemas though.

  17. I’ve read a lot of 3D apologists saying the shrinking theatrical numbers is from people stealing glasses and buying 2D tickets, then sneaking in to watch the 3D.

    I’m fine with 3D existing for people that like it.
    It just really gets under my skin that when I express that I passionately dislike 3D (as it is now)that I am wrong somehow. That I’m simply being thickheaded and “hating” on new things. and then get an ear full of “Sound and color had their detractors too”.

    That’s when I start to get pissy with people and come off as anti-3D.

    Personally I’d like them to perfect the 2D image/displays we have before spinning wheels trying to create a new cash cow. But I’ve got nothing against people who like it and want it in more movies, as long as us 2D folks don’t get the shortend.

    For me 3D is extremely flawed, yes even in the mighty Avatar. Maybe I’m just more picky about picture quality. But it’s distracting as hell, I find myself watching “the effect” and the artifacts of it’s short comings more than I am the actual movie. and even when the effect works like it’s supposed to, it still to me looks like a glorified Viewmaster. It does not look “more real”, it looks less real, by far.

    Sure it looks different. But if I woke up and my eyes saw things like that, I’d probably donate them to science.

  18. EM

    Today I finally saw Cave of Forgotten Dreams, which I consider a good argument for 3D film. Not that all the 3D was perfect (there were some particularly egregious shots). But this documentary (about a cave site bearing wall art tens of millennia old) showed significant and beautiful three-dimensional art (the paintings often take advantage of the curves of the walls) that is permanently embedded in a site too fragile for the general public or even more than a few specialists to ever visit in person. I wouldn’t mind seeing more documentaries use 3D for similar purposes.