Is The Bloom Falling Off The Rose for Theatrical 3D?

According to a story in yesterday’s New York Times, the box office take for 3D versions of Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides and Kung Fu Panda 2 is falling far below Hollywood’s expectations.


In the past, so-called ‘tentpole’ movies have realized as much as 60% of their revenue from 3D screenings. But that’s not the case for Pirates, which had a softer opening than its three predecessors and is seeing only 47% of its revenue coming from 3D screenings.


Granted, the Pirates franchise may finally be running out of steam – reviews of this movie have generally been tepid. But the drop for Panda is of greater concern, as animated movies generally do very well in 3D.


The Times article stated that Panda sold only $54 million in tickets from Thursday May 26 through Sunday May 29. That is considered a ‘soft’ opening when compared to the original Panda. Of greater concern is the fact that 3D screenings only accounted for 45% of the total box office, even though Panda is expected to be one of the top animated releases for 2011.


Ironically, 3D screenings of Pirates are doing very well overseas, where 3D is still a novelty. The movie earned $256 million internationally in its first weekend of release, with 3D driving a good deal of the box office.

No one is quite sure of the reasons for the decline in 3D ticket sales. Richard Greenfield, an outspoken analyst of the entertainment industry for BTIG, stated flatly that “The American Consumer is rejecting 3D,” while Greg Foster of Imax Filmed Entertainment implied that moviegoers have finally “caught on” to the higher prices being charged for mediocre movies presented in the 3D format.


The importance of strong 3D box office can’t be understated. A total of 16 movies will be released in 3D by September, and this weekend’s tentpole 3D flick will quickly become yesterday’s news, especially with the likes of Green Lantern and Transformers 3 looming on the horizon.


The fact is; a good movie is a good movie – period. Even the best animated films like Toy Story 3 don’t give up anything when viewed in 2D, and it’s rare that an animated feature comes along that actually works better in 3D than 2D (think 2010’s How To Train Your Dragon, one of the best 3D animated movies ever).


The Times article opines that it might be a better idea for Hollywood to cut back on the number of 3D releases as American moviegoers are increasingly blanching at paying a premium of $3 to $5 for the privilege of wearing RealD glasses. Greenfield agreed, stating that the Memorial Day results show audiences are quite happy with 2D, thank you very much, and that too many screens have been allocated to 3D.


While it may be too early to declare a trend, the 3D picture has clearly changed from 2010. Have 3D movies peaked? If so, what will this trend mean for 3D TV and Blu-ray sales down the road?