'Toy Story' is third opener to sell fewer tix in the format

The 3D crunch is hitting the domestic summer box office, as this weekend’s boffo opener “Toy Story 3″ marks the third consecutive 3D opening — and 3D toon — to earn a lower percentage of its gross from 3D venues than previous such offerings.

Actual weekend figures for the Disney/Pixar toon came in at $110.3 million, slightly ahead of Sunday’s estimates, with 60% of the weekend’s gross from 3D screens.

The toon’s 3D grosses were 11% less than Disney’s “Alice in Wonderland” opening, which earned 71% of its $116.1 million opening from 3D.

With “Alice” just three weeks into its domestic run, Paramount and DreamWorks Animation’s “How to Train Your Dragon” then bowed March 26 with 68% from 3D, followed by “Shrek” on May 21 with a 62% 3D share.

Why the falling 3D shares? According to some B.O. observers, it’s mostly due to the 3D screen crunch causing competition among toons — but it’s also possible fami-lies are beginning to question the necessity of buying 3D tix on opening weekends.

“When ‘Alice’ opened, there was nothing in the marketplace to eat up the majority of the 3D screens,” said Disney prexy of global distribution Chuck Viane. “When ‘Toy Story’ opened, we had to share the pot of available screens with ‘Shrek.'”

“Toy 3″ occupied 2,463 digital 3D screens; while in its fifth frame, “Shrek” held on to 1,300 3D screens. As of last month, the U.S. 3D screen count stood at 4,384 and approximately 2,500 3D locations.

On the exhibitor side, director of media and research for the National Assn. of Theater Owners Patrick Corcoran said most circuits are motivated by playability. “We’re seeing an increasing number of 3D screens, but when more than one movie competes for a screen, it becomes a question of which movie will play,” Corcoran said.

Both Par toons, which debuted somewhat lower than expected, have maintained steady holds in subsequent frames. Totals for “Dragon” stand at $214.8 million domestically; “Shrek” reached $223.1 million through the weekend.

Some insiders question whether families are willing to pay 3D upcharges of several dollars each for the entire family — especially when the youngest tykes have trouble keeping glasses on. In response to concerns about adult-sized glasses, 3D provider RealD launched a line of kid-sized 3D glasses made available in conjunction with the launch of “Toy 3.” The glasses are designed to fit children aged 8 and younger.

Corcoran said some moviegoers will wait to hear whether the 3D quality is worth the price.

With healthy runs and positive word of mouth for “Dragon” and “Shrek,” most auds have decided it’s worth the extra cost — “Shrek’s” share of 3D tickets has remained steady since opening weekend.

In July, two more pics will add to the 3D logjam: Par’s live action “The Last Airbender,” which bows July 1, could see interest in the 3D aspect from the targeted aud of young males. Like the year’s previous toon entries, Universal’s “Despicable Me” could face a similar challenge among families when it launches a week later.

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