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Box Office: 3D Stages a Revival (Again)

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.

3D OPENING WEEKEND PERCENTAGES

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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