3-D gives B.O. another dimension

'Beowulf' success makes exhibs optimistic

“Beowulf” B.O. tallies are getting a significant boost from 3-D engagements — good news for distrib Paramount, but other studios are also happy for the pic’s success.

That’s because Robert Zemeckis’ motion-capture epic is the first modern-day 3-D pic that’s not just for kids, and rival studios are cautiously optimistic that this bodes well for their own 3-D plans in the next few years.

“Beowulf” is the widest 3-D release to date, and studio execs are hoping its success will prompt exhibs to install more 3-D screens. At its widest, the film played on roughly 740 3-D screens.

The pic is manna for exhibs as well. With so many other entertainment options, the exhibition business hasn’t been able to offer many enticements as a means to bump up ticket prices. 3-D gives them this opportunity.

Over the Nov. 30-Dec. 2 weekend, “Beowulf’s” 3-D playdates (on both digital 3-D and Imax) outgrossed the pic’s box office haul from traditional screens — the first time that had happened in the pic’s three-week run. The new format accounted for only 22% of the film’s screens, though those showings brought in 51% of the box office.

“We’re very happy with the performance,” says Paramount prexy of worldwide marketing and distribution Rob Moore. “It definitely is encouraging for the future of other 3-D endeavors. I think it says that the moviegoing audience is interested in seeing films in 3-D, and not just family (films). This shows that the mainstream audience is ready for a 3-D movie.”

Once the film opened, Par tweaked its TV campaign to stress the 3-D factor.

Still, studios have to work to educate the public that this isn’t like the older 3-D formats, when paper glasses had one green lens and one red lens. Some viewers complained that 3-D made them nauseous. Today’s 3-D glasses are much more comfortable, with clear lenses.

“The old 3-D was a gimmick. The technology is so far advanced now, that it’s not intrusive, and it’s a completely immersive experience. Instead of pushing out, it pulls you in, so that you almost feel like you are in the room. That’s the beauty of 3-D,” says Fox co-chair Jim Gianopoulos, whose studio is making James Cameron’s 3-D live-action/CGI combo “Avatar.”

The average ticket price for a film playing on a digital 3-D screen is $2.50 more than a regular ticket. The charge for an Imax ticket can be $3 to $4 more than a regular ticket, and even higher in some locales. At the Bridge in Los Angeles, an Imax ticket is $17.25.

The pricey “Beowulf’s” domestic cume has been boosted significantly by 3-D grosses. Pic’s total domestic gross was $70.9 million through Dec. 5.

“Beowulf” was playing on 3,249 domestic screens as of Dec. 5. Of those, 84 are Imax runs, and 640 are digital 3-D screens supplied by Real D systems. Pic also is playing on a handful of 3-D screens supplied by Dolby 3-D Digital.

“We feel like the 3-D screens are performing in such a way that the film will have a longer run than it would have had otherwise,” says Moore.

Imax chairman/prexy Greg Foster says he’s wowed by the results of “Beowulf,” pointing out that Imax screens supplied 20% of the gross during the Nov. 30-Dec. 2 frame.

“I think it says that 3-D, and Imax in particular, is where people want to see big action movies. It gives people a you-are-there, first-person experience,” Foster says.

In a major deal, Imax announced Dec. 6 that it is partnering with AMC Theaters to install 100 digital Imax systems at AMC locations in 33 top U.S. markets that support 3-D.

For Imax, “Beowulf’s” perf has been extra-sweet, because it has drawn the young male demo Imax has long courted.

“With ‘Beowulf,’ 3-D has been introduced to another crowd. The potential audience is now that much larger,” says Disney prexy of distribution Chuck Viane.

Viane and Disney have been at the forefront of releasing 3-D fare, such as annual holiday release Tim Burton’s “Nightmare Before Christmas in Disney 3-D,” which has been a strong performer. Earlier this year, the Mouse House released “Meet the Robinsons” in both 3-D and 2-D. Of the pic’s total domestic gross of $97.8 million, $30.4 million came from 3-D runs.

Normally, studios are fiercely competitive. But when it comes to 3-D, they’re compatriots — at least for now. By singing the same song, they can present a united front to theater owners when convincing exhibs to make the transition to digital and install 3-D screens.

What’s good for one studio could pave the way for another, such as Fox. Cameron’s tentpole “Avatar” is set for release May 21, 2009.

Like “Beowulf,” “Avatar” isn’t a kiddie title. It’s the first film Cameron has made since 1997’s “Titanic”; he reportedly waited all this time because he wanted to make it in 3-D. That meant being patient and allowing technology catch up.

“Clearly, ‘Beowulf’ shows the potential for 3-D as an enhancement to the theatrical experience. 3-D is a tremendous tool in the hands of great filmmakers, which is why all the biggest filmmakers are gravitating to it,” Gianopoulos says.

On July 11, New Line will unspool action-adventure “Journey 3-D,” a remake of Jules Verne’s “Journey to the Center of the Earth,” toplining Brendan Fraser.

Two concert films shot in 3-D are ready to unspool in theaters; “U2 3D,” which opens in January, and “Hannah Montana/Miley Cyrus: Best of Both Worlds Concert Tour,” which Disney bows Feb 1.

The 3-D picture will heat up in a big way in 2009, with the release of DreamWorks Animation’s “Monsters vs. Aliens,” which unspools March 26, and “Avatar” soon after,

DreamWorks Animation’s Jeffrey Katzenberg has become a fervent proponent of 3-D, saying that all DWA titles will be shot in digital 3-D, beginning with “Monsters.”

With such pics in the wings, the race is on to pressure exhibs to convert more screens to digital, so that they can be equipped with the technology needed to play 3-D fare.

“If ‘Beowulf’ wouldn’t have worked, it would have been a real negative for the expansion of digital 3-D screens,” Moore says.

Real D CEO Michael Lewis agrees, saying that talks with exhibs about going 3-D have stepped up in the wake of “Beowulf.”

“Make it real, make it life-like and you can charge a premium in an industry that hasn’t had any pricing power in the last 30 years,” Lewis says. “It is pretty significant.”

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