×

3D: The Eyes Have It

Leggy box office suggests format is growing up

Depending on the reports you read, 3D box office predicts either the slow death of the format or the eventual triumph of the 3D revolution.

There’s been pushback over pricing on 3D tickets, backlash over inferior 3D and enough variation in grosses and 3D shares for almost any spin.

But a close look at the existing data suggests the noise around 3D isn’t a death rattle but the sound of an infant format growing up.

The numbers show sturdy legs for 3D in holdover frames. In short, auds continue to prefer 3D if they think the movie and the 3D are worthy.

Most detailed box office reporting focuses on the opening weekend. But presentations by Screen Digest senior analyst Charlotte Jones have shown that 3D consistently holds better and plays longer than 2D, even though auds scrutinize 3D more closely than most other technical aspects of a pic.

Now moviegoers not only have to decide which movie to see, but what format in which to see it, and they are often swayed by word of mouth.

“I think there are two dynamics going on here,” Jones said. “The first is how that product is marketed as a 3D product. The more it is marketed as a 3D product, the higher the 3D ratio we see. But having a higher 3D ratio does not always mean greater box office success.”

That’s borne out by the box office data. “Alice in Wonderland,” “Step Up 3D” and “Piranha 3D,” all marketed as 3D experiences, had opening weekend 3D shares of 80%, 81% and 95%, respectively. But only “Alice” was a hit. (See “3D: Drawing a Crowd?” on next page.)

“Alice’s” 3D share declined after its March 5 debut, but it had only three clear weeks before the arrival of “How to Train Your Dragon.” “Dragon’s” share, in turn, declined after the arrival, a week later, of “Clash of Titans.”

Despite competition for screens, most 2010 3D titles roughly held steady with the format beyond opening weekend, according to studio figures. A few even exceeded their debut 3D share in cumes. “Despicable Me,” which launched during a crowded mid-summer frame with “Toy Story 3” and “The Last Airbender” still on 3D screens, had an opening 44% 3D share, indicating a small share of tickets sold were 3D. By late August, that 3D share had nudged up to 46% of its $231 million North American total. During that time, no 3D tentpoles had opened, clearing the way for “Step Up 3D” (released Aug. 6) and “Piranha” (released Aug. 20) to add 3D screens and maintain their shares in holdover weekends.

There may have been a time when 3D alone was enough to lift a pic to hit status. “Journey to the Center of the Earth” far outstripped expectations, in part because it played 3D screens with little or no competition for nearly two months.

Now there are more screens but also more releases. Competition is much stiffer. Jones said, “We’re seeing audiences become more discerning, more critical, of where they are willing to pay for a 3D experience.”

“Clash” and “Airbender,” both much-ballyhooed live-action tentpoles, met scathing reviews for their 3D. Their 3D ratio started in the mid-50s, indicating more tickets sold for 2D than 3D from the outset.

3D box office is open to interpretation — and misinterpretation — because hard numbers are scarce, and there are many variables: the increasing number of 3D screens, the increasing number of 3D releases, the erratic 3D release schedule and the uneven quality of the movies.

While studios do provide 3D to 2D gross ratios, they don’t release admissions figures, and there is no industrywide data on how many 3D seats are available each weekend, or what portion of those seats are filled.

Until more detailed data is available, expect to keep hearing cheers from Pollyannas and wails from naysayers.

Popular on Variety

More Digital

  • Podium Publishing Taps Scott P. Dickey

    Podium Publishing Taps Scott P. Dickey as Chief Executive Officer

    Independent audiobook publisher Podium Publishing has selected veteran media executive Scott P. Dickey as chief executive officer. Greg Lawrence, former CEO and co-founder,  remains as Podium’s publisher and a member of the board of directors. As CEO, Dickey will set and implement the day-to-day and long-term marketing, production and business strategy for the company as [...]

  • "The Stockholm Syndrome" - Pictured: Rajesh

    Inside the Blockbuster $600 Million 'Big Bang Theory' Streaming Deal With HBO Max

    As one of TV’s most popular shows of the past 20 years, “The Big Bang Theory” was sure to command a huge price when the streaming rights were finally shopped in a red-hot market for iconic comedies with large libraries. But “Big Bang Theory” wasn’t shopped widely on the open market before the streaming pact [...]

  • Mark Zuckerberg Facebook

    Mark Zuckerberg Can Be Overruled by Facebook's New Oversight Board on Content Decisions

    Mark Zuckerberg, chairman and CEO of Facebook, can’t be ousted by investors — he owns a controlling interest in the company’s voting shares. But according to the social giant, the new Oversight Board — colloquially called Facebook’s “Supreme Court” — that it is setting up to adjudicate appeals about whether to leave up or take [...]

  • YouTube - Google UK Offices

    Google Launches Ability to Find Key Moments in YouTube Videos via Search

    Google has introduced a new way to find exact moments in YouTube videos through its search engine, with initial partners including CBS Sports. According to Google, search results now will provide links to key moments within the video — if, that is, YouTube content creators have provided the necessary timestamp information to Google. “You’ll be [...]

  • Spotify logo is presented on a

    Spotify VP Paul Vogel Talks Subscription Prices, Label Licenses, Podcasts

    The annual Goldman Sachs Communacopia Conference gives representatives from major companies the opportunity to present to the investment community, and Paul Vogel, Spotify’s VP and head of financial planning & analysis, treasury and investor relations, spoke on the streaming giant’s behalf on Tuesday morning. While many of his comments were statements frequently heard in the [...]

  • Directv Now

    AT&T Sued for Allegedly Creating Bogus DirecTV Now Accounts

    A group of investors sued AT&T, alleging the telco artificially inflated subscriber counts for its DirecTV Now streaming service — including by creating fake accounts. In the federal class-action lawsuit, the plaintiffs allege that AT&T wanted to make DirecTV Now seem more successful than it actually was as another way to rationalize its $85 billion [...]

  • Streaming Battle: Disney, Apple and More

    The Battle for Eyeballs Makes for an Action-Packed Streaming Arena (Column)

    It came as no surprise last week that Disney CEO Bob Iger had resigned from the Apple board since the two companies are poised to launch competing subscription streaming services in less than two months. But Iger’s departure (announced the same day that Apple revealed its Nov. 1 launch date and $5-a-month price point) underscores [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content