Moviegoers are putting down the colored glasses.
Box office revenues for 3D films in the U.S. and Canada fell 18% in 2017 to $1.3 billion, according to a new report by the Motion Picture Association of America. That’s the worst showing in eight years, and a steep drop off from the $2.2 billion in revenues generated by 3D films in 2010, the year when “Avatar” generated a substantial amount of its box office grosses and helped kick off a revival of the format.
The declines accompany a larger drop in the domestic box office. Overall revenues fell roughly 2% in 2017 to $11.1 billion. The foreign box office, however, grew, hitting a record $40.6 billion.
The popularity of 3D and large screen releases varied by age group. They were most popular with moviegoers between the ages of 12 to 17, with consumers in that demographic seeing an average of 3.8 movies in 3D or large screen formats such as IMAX. Audiences over 60 saw the fewest number of 3D or large format films, averaging 2.8 films.
Since “Avatar,” 3D has seen its fortunes fall dramatically. There were gripes about hasty and shoddy 3D conversions of films such as “Clash of the Titans” and gripes about the higher price of tickets. Some filmmakers, such as Alfonso Cuaron (“Gravity”) and Martin Scorsese (“Hugo”), have experimented with the technology to critical acclaim, but it’s been awhile since an A-list filmmaker has publicly embraced the possibilities of 3D. That could change with the release of an “Avatar” sequel in 2020.
As 3D has become less in demand, movie theaters have pulled back their investments. The number of digital 3D screens increased just a percentage point in 2017. Studios have also been more conservative about greenlighting 3D films. The number of 3D releases in 2017 dropped 15% to 44. The previous year, there were 52 3D films.