When I was a kid, I saw “Star Wars” half a dozen times in the theater. After seeing Han Solo steer the Millennium Falcon into hyperspace, the world opened up, and like so many others, I headed to Hollywood with the hope my imagination would take further flight.
Over the past 20-plus years working in entertainment, mostly in visual technology and 3D innovation, I have personally witnessed a few hyperspace moments: the teal and violet of James Cameron’s Pandora in “Avatar,” the isolation and stillness of space in Alfonso Cuarón’s “Gravity” and Mowgli magically swinging from vine to vine in Jon Favreau’s “The Jungle Book.”
There have been a number of articles written of late about the 3D-versus-2D battle within our industry. As someone who’s been at this awhile, and seen a few peaks and valleys on this subject, let me offer a counter point of view.
The mission when I founded RealD was to create technology that gives directors and visual artists the ability to reimagine what was thought possible on the screen and immerse audiences in extraordinary new worlds more deeply than ever before. Over the past decade, Cameron, Cuarón, Favreau, Martin Scorsese, Ridley Scott, Ang Lee and many others reimagined the cinematic experience, and audiences took note. All of the top 10 highest-grossing films of all time have been released in 3D. Nine of the 10 highest-grossing films of last year and this year were released in 3D. 3D remains an $8 billion business globally.
For example, nearly half of all domestic moviegoers who saw “Jurassic World” chose to view the feature in 3D. That means almost 50% of the U.S. box office for that blockbuster was made up of audience members willing to pay a premium for a better experience. Furthermore, 43% of domestic moviegoers bought 3D tickets for “The Jungle Book,” and 46% of the domestic opening weekend box office for “Doctor Strange” came from 3D ticket sales — and the format held strong with nearly 40% of the film’s total domestic gross coming from 3D. These figures are significant. In any other industry, percentages like these for sales of a premium offering would be considered a massive success.
Our internal research shows roughly 80% of all North American moviegoers are open to a 3D experience. We should lean in and embrace them.
So, what needs to be done? For starters, 3D cannot be an afterthought. As productions are carefully crafted from beginning to end, 3D needs to be imagined from the start and be a part of the creative process from capture to delivery. 3D films need to be made properly and with purpose, thoughtfully marketed and always presented with technical excellence in theaters.
We realize that one bad experience in 3D could affect a moviegoer’s preferences for life. This is especially challenging because not all 3D is created equal. As a science and technology company, RealD is constantly researching and developing new technology to make the viewing experience better. This includes the glasses, the screen, the projector and every aspect of presentation. Today’s audience is very savvy and values stellar presentation. We all must sweat the details.
In theatrical exhibition, competition doesn’t stem from one format over another. Our competition is the many ways audiences can now consume entertainment and the quality of time associated with the entertainment. We need to constantly remind a new generation of moviegoers (who predominantly absorb content on mobile devices) that the collective, shared experience of seeing a film with optimum visuals is second to none. And when they come into our movie houses, we need to welcome and dazzle them with the best experience imaginable. For many fans, 3D remains a fantastic differentiator from what’s in their homes and on their phones.
I would invite anyone working in 3D technology — our competitors and our colleagues, studios, distributors and exhibitors — to do everything they can to continue to perfect the moviegoing experience, no matter the format. Innovation by one moves us all forward.
And in the hands of gifted storytellers, 3D will continue to transport our imaginations light years ahead.
Michael V. Lewis is the co-founder and CEO of RealD, the world’s largest 3D cinema platform with more than 32,000 screens in 72 countries.