The Conversation: Did This Weekend's Box Office Put Another Nail in the 3D Coffin?

The Conversation: Did This Weekend's Box Office Put Another Nail in the 3D Coffin?

Aug 22, 2011

As one of the (seemingly few) longtime and continued fans of digital 3D who rarely minds the format (keep in mind, I also rarely have to pay for it), it was a major conflict this past weekend for me attempting to praise the excellent Fright Night remake while also arguing against seeing it in 3D. Many critics claimed it as the biggest 3D rip-off in a while, despite the fact that it was carefully plannned for the format, rather than converted in post -- see Josh Tyler's analysis at CinemaBlend for a detailed exception, arguing it is technically "well done." And now that the film has bombed miserably at the box office, joined with equally disappointing returns for the also-3D, also-recycled new releases Conan the Barbarian and Spy Kids: All the Time in the World (also in "4D," or "Aroma-Scope") it's time for pundits to bang the gong on the "gimmick" once again.

Of course, as many will point out, 3D will not be going anywhere, not now nor even after all the planned and filmed projects and the retro-fitted anniversary rereleases are spewed out. While the new 3D movies were mostly bettered by 2D movies, including another remake (Rise of the Planet of the Apes), which has the fortune of better reviews and great word of mouth, Fright Night was beaten by a proven 3D movie, an inoffensively decent kid flick that makes more entertaining use of the spectacle enhancements (The Smurfs), and which has grossed more than $300 million worldwide. Also, seven of the the year's top ten films (domestic b.o.) were released in 3D, never mind if some of their audiences preferred the 2D option. 

Still, there is a conversation to be had in the wake of another poor weekend for the 3D business overall. Is it time for Hollywood to deal with the surcharge issue, or should they just be more selective with what's shown in 3D, and thereby what's more expensive to moviegoers, making 3D about being a rare treat? Or, if 3D is really here to stay, should we accept that there will be good and bad, hits and bombs, just as there are ups and downs with movies in general? Don't bother with any calls for the death of 3D, though, because that's not going to happen.  

Here's what others are saying around the web in response to D:


It was a gimmick when it was first introduced in the 1950s, in an attempt to lure moviegoers back into the theaters and away from their televisions; it was a gimmick when it was first resurrected in the 1980s. In both cases, it faded away, because you can only see the dog whistle “Stars and Stripes Forever” so many times before the novelty is gone. And, proclamations of hucksters like Cameron and Scott aside, it will fade away again. The question is: when? It may take a while, because (inexplicable though it may be) we still live in a world where the 3-D Avatar is the highest-grossing movie of all time, and where some 3-D movies are still very successful. But this summer, those have been films like The Smurfs and Transformers: Dark of the Moon, which (let’s call a spade a spade) are less “films” than they are “filmed advertisements for nostalgia.” In its opening weekend, the new Pirates of the Caribbean film did less than half of its business on 3-D screens; Captain America did worse, with only 40% of its $65 million opening weekend coming from 3-D presentations. Given the choice, an increasing majority of the moviegoing public is walking away from the gimmickry (and inflated ticket prices) of this dopey fad. - Jason Bailey, Flavorwire

Here’s the reality: 3D is doomed to be a gimmick as long as it costs more than a normal ticket price. There are other technical problems which essentially doom the format as well, but it’s price that’s proving to be the huge hurdle. While exhibitors and distributors scramble to fix the format’s brightness issue [...] they’re continuing to ignore the pricing issue. People may pay more money to see The Hobbit in 3D because of its pedigree, but this weekend they voted with their wallets and told Hollywood they’re going to skip overpaying for junk like Conan and Fright Night. - Devin Faraci, Badass Digest

You see, this is what happens, damnit! People have been burned so often now by horror-movie remakes, post Twilight vampire flicks, and 3D movies that when something good comes along that meets one of those criteria — or all three, in the case of Fright Night — people ignore it because of all the shitty films in those categories that came before it. - Dustin Rowles, Pajiba

While [the motion capture] revolution seems on its way up, the 3-D revolution could be nearing its end. That’s hyperbolic. Nothing is going to stop the 3-D craze, not even when movies like Conan the Barbarian and Fright Night under perform. [...] 5 of the top 10 movies out are presented in 3-D. While films like The Help and Rise/Apes continue to dominate, it could have studios questioning their 3-D slate, wondering if its worth the cost, time, and effort to post-convert every film that comes out. Still plenty of films on the 3-D horizon with Shark Night hitting next on September 2, but even with its PG-13 rating, it doesn’t seem that film will bring in blockbuster numbers. It’ll be interesting when the next huge 3-D movie hits, The Adventures of Tintin. If the numbers generated by the technology don’t amount to much, it will probably be time for studios to really begin to question the format. - Jeremy Kirk, Film School Rejects

Despite growing complaints, 3-D isn’t going anywhere. In fact, some of 2012′s biggest films offer intriguing possibilities for the form. Ridley Scott’s Prometheus, Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit, and the new Spider-Man reboot are all being filmed in 3-D. If nothing else, these films will probably look better than the 3-D conversions that darkened Pirates, Captain America, Thor, and most other films this summer. But first, this fall sees two master filmmakers attempting 3-D for the first time: Martin Scorsese is delivering his children’s film Hugo, while Steven Spielberg is following in the footsteps of his former protege Robert Zemeckis with the motion-capture cartoon The Adventures of Tintin. Can the two directors salvage 3-D in the wake of the extra dimension’s disappointing 2011? More to the point, can they do something genuinely different with the form? [...] If Scorsese and Spielberg can wring something new out of the format, we might still be looking at the dawn of an extra-dimensional revolution in cinema. If not, then prepare yourself for a difficult 2012. - Darren Franich, Entertainment Weekly

To me, the current attitude is perfectly captured by the trailer I just saw, at a weekend matinee, for Shark Night 3D. At the end of the trailer, one of those cheesy-imperious, low-voice-of-the-devil, 1970s-horror-style trailer narrators came on and intoned the words “Shark Night 3D!” Followed by the unintentionally hilarious “Also showing in 2D!” It was a de facto admission of defeat, and the audience roared. They knew, as the film’s producers apparently did as well, that being gouged is no added dimension of fun. - Owen Gleiberman, Entertainment Weekly

@JJSalemWrites: Dear Hollywood: When my 15-year-old nephew says, "3-D is for losers," it's time to regroup

@LeeBamforth: Can we all stop making 3D movies now please?

@filmdetail: I think in the case of these films it was remake fatigue to blame, but 3D ticket hikes didn't help either.

@MrAlanSpencer: No need for complex analysis what went wrong at the box office. Similar to Libya… people had enough. 3-D glasses now burned in the streets.



Follow Christopher Campbell on Twitter (@thefilmcynic) to join "the conversation."  

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