Box Office: 3D Stages a Revival (Again)

Edge of Tomorrow

3D may have staged yet another revival.

Last summer, the premium format went from sizzle to fizzle, with most audience members opting not to don the tinted specs for the likes of “Turbo,” “The Wolverine” and “World War Z.”

What a difference an Oscar-winning space epic makes.

Analysts and exhibitors credit “Gravity” with making 3D cool again, and in recent months the format’s box office contribution has increased.

“You can’t overlook ‘Gravity’s’ impact,” said Eric Wold, an analyst with B. Riley & Co. “All it takes is one good movie to spark consumer interest. ‘Gravity’ doing what it did got people to think about 3D differently, and it got some people to come back after having a bad experience.”

“It changed the mindset,” said James Goss, managing director of research at Barrington Research Associates. “Studios and RealD and theater operators are now looking for movies that play well in 3D and that are enhanced by it instead of just making everything in 3D.”

Films such as “Edge of Tomorrow” and “Godzilla” didn’t match “Gravity’s” 80% 3D take — but they racked up roughly half of their opening weekends from 3D screenings, while “The Amazing Spider-Man 2” brought in 43% of its debut haul from 3D engagements. That’s in sharp relief to the 34% market share “World War Z” carved out from the format in its initial frame or the 30% “The Wolverine” earned from 3D in its first weekend of release.

Also brightening the picture — directors such as Gareth Edwards (“Godzilla”) and Marc Webb (“The Amazing Spider-Man 2”) have urged fans to see their films in 3D, while advertising campaigns for major summer movies have urged ticket-buyers to spring for the premium format.

“When a studio sets the tone that a film is meant to be seen in 3D, moviegoers respond,” said Michael Lewis, chairman and CEO of the 3D provider RealD. “Filmmaker endorsements are an especially powerful tool. When a filmmaker explains how they envisioned the film in 3D and the benefits of seeing the film in 3D, moviegoers have better context when buying tickets.”

For studios and exhibitors, a higher 3D share equates to millions of dollars in incremental box office because those tickets carry a healthy surcharge. Central to the format’s improved fortunes has been a more fervent embrace by theater owners, who are offering more 3D showings and have become more willing to pair it with other premium large screen formats such as Imax.

That required an attitude adjustment throughout the industry.

“We all took 3D for granted,” said Cinemark CEO Tim Warner. “The studios made them in 3D, but they didn’t sell them in 3D. The exhibitors just said, ‘If people want to see them in 3D, fine. If they don’t, fine.’ So we didn’t market them either. We all saw that ‘Hey, here’s something that has really become about 20 percent of our box office, and if it goes away, none of us really has an idea to replace it.'”

Now things have changed, he argued.

“If they’re going to make a movie in 3D and market it, we’re going to show it in 3D, and we’re not going to take it for granted,” Warner said.

Of course, not everything has worked. Family films such as “How to Train Your Dragon 2” (32% 3D market share) and “Maleficent” (21% 3D market share) have given ticket-buyers sticker shock, showing that the format is not the preferred choice for the price-conscious or customers bearing children.


How to Train Your Dragon 2 (Summer 2014)
Opening Weekend: $50 Mil.
3D Market Share: 32%

Edge of Tomorrow (Summer 2014)
Opening Weekend: $28.8 Mil.
3D Market Share: 47%

Maleficent (Summer 2014)
Opening Weekend: $69.4 Mil.
3D Market Share: 21%

Godzilla (Summer 2014)
Opening Weekend: $93.2 Mil.
3D Market Share: 51%

The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (Summer 2014)
Opening Weekend: $91.6 Mil
3D Market Share: 43%

The Wolverine (Summer 2013)
Opening Weekend: $53.1 Mil
3D Market Share: 30%

Turbo (Summer 2013)
Opening Weekend: $21.3 Mil
3D Market Share: 25%

Monsters University (Summer 2013)
Opening Weekend: $82.4 Mil.
3D Market Share: 31%

World War Z (Summer 2013)
Opening Weekend: $66.4 Mil
3D Market Share: 34%

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  1. Eric Kurland says:

    I’m bothered by the fact that the Box office percentage statistics never list the percentage of 3-D screens vs. 2-D screens. For example, if half of the screens for a release are 3-D presentations, but 2-D gets higher than 50% of box office, then audiences are choosing 2-D, but under those same circumstances, if 3-D brings in more than 50% of the box office (adjusted for the premium price) then audiences preferred the 3-D version. If a picture like How To Train Your Dragon 2 is only presented in 3-D on a third of its screens, I would never expect it to earn more than 33% of its box office from the format. These percentages without number of screens are meaningless.

  2. kern says:

    It may make commercial sense to market 3-D, but to this moviegoer, as long as it requires dark colored glasses, it is a worthless distraction. I only find it enjoyable in theme park presentations filled with images extending out into our faces. In either case, it is a gimmick which distances the viewer from the story and artistry of mainstream films

  3. I’m gonna blow your minds, ready? Young children should not be subjected to 3D premiums. Children under 12 or 13 can’t go to the movies alone like jr.high kids can, so they go in groups with family – and they’ll NEVER get to see it. Like McDonalds, you get ’em young, and build a memory they chase for life. If the young kids in families NEVER get to see 3D since it’s basically FIFTY bucks for a family of THREE to go see Maleficent.

  4. There shouldn’t even BE any separate 2D showings of 3D movies- if a movie is produced in 3D, it should be shown in 3D. Don’t like 3D? Go see another movie that’s already in 2D. Of course the greedy studios and theater owners should also STOP charging extra for 3D, they’re already so greedy with their regular prices that I hardly go to movies at all any more- but I would forego a 3D movie altogether rather than see it in 2D just because it cost less. I’ve bought all the movies mentioned in this article on 3D Blu-Ray for just a bit more than the price of one ticket.

  5. stereoscope3d says:

    It is good to see articles like this one (rare). Often it has not been recognized that many people enjoy 3D very much, so much so that they are willing to pay the surcharges for the privilege. 3D, after all, is normal vision. Certainly some may find the viewing glasses uncomfortable. But, they are not that different from sunglasses, which many people purchase and wear without complaining. That is not to say that all 3D is always perfect. While most 3D motion pictures have their moments, there are often situations where the images are not what they should be or could be. Whether due to errors in production, or post, or even exhibition, these negative aspects should not be occurring. Most often they are due to someone’s not knowing the correct way to do things. Certainly, there are many experts at their craft. Yet, far too few really have enough experience or understand completely the exigencies of stereoscopic 3D image making. In order that this wonderful medium of expression continues to grow, we need to get the word out to the industry as to the best ways to accomplish this. A new generation of 3D is rapidly approaching, that will be far better than what has been experienced so far. Such things as high dynamic range cameras and processing and laser projection will result in images that are absolutely stunning in their realism and image quality, with color and other attributes equal to or exceeding today’s standards for 2D. It behooves all practitioners of all aspects, from pre-production through exhibition, to learn and put into practice the best possible techniques and work flows.

  6. What drives me crazy is that none of this analysis separates IMAX from 3D. Are people going to movies FOR the 3D or because the movies they want to see, typically big-budget eye candy, play on the big IMAX screens ONLY when they are also in 3D?

    I’m one of those people that to this day cannot stand watching a movie with 3D glasses. I made an exception for Gravity on the promise that the experience would be worthwhile. It was. In fact, Gravity would have had far less of an impact than it did had it not been filmed and shown in 3D. I’d question, however, whether films like Godzilla, Edge, and upcoming spectacles like Transformers will use the technology in a similarly essential manner.

    However, the reason I’ll sometimes endure 3D is because I want to see these movies on the biggest screen and in the loudest theaters and that means IMAX. I suspect that a good portion of the audience also feels the same way and is willing to endure the glasses and the upcharge for the superior viewing experience.

    The problem is that there’s no way to determine which factor motivates moviegoers more. Is it because they want the 3D, the bigger screen, the RPX/ATMOS experience, or what? One possible explanation is that the resurgence of interest doesn’t necessarily mean that viewers ardently embrace 3D any more than they used to, but rather that they’re less likely to avoid it so that they can see the film on the best screen possible.

    I’d dearly, dearly love to see a market where the same movies are released in 3D IMAX and IMAX alone to see if people really are willing to forego the 3D to see it on the best screen possible. A test like THAT would prove once and for all that consumers are embracing the gimmick rather than just enduring it.

    • sammyglick says:

      I suspect you’re right about separating 3D and IMAX (with or without 3D) to generate more accurate statistics. After getting honestly burned on several 3D movies (such as one of the Resident Evil sequels or Immortals), today I’ll only spend the extra money if it’s movie such as Avatar or Gravity (in which 3D is used in a groundbreaking way, or it is part of the actual storytelling). Since we can’t go back in time and re-experience Avatar, all we have left are films that use 3D as a key part of telling the story. Until another ‘Gravity’ is created, this moviegoer will skip the extra price for 3D and IMAX as well (since only certain scenes are in the format, so again you’re not really getting your full value for the price increase).

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