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As Moviegoers Cool on 3-D, Next Breakout Could Be Tron: Legacy

Photo of Anne Thompson By Anne Thompson | Thompson on Hollywood September 27, 2010 at 12:37PM

It's amazing how far the 3-D clock has turned in a short time. In classic Hollywood fashion, the industry seems to have cooked its own 3-D goose in just a few years. After talking theater owners across America into building some 5000 digital cinemas equipped with 3-D projectors, the studios have jumped eagerly onto the 3-D bandwagon, throwing one movie after the other into shoddy quickie retrofit post-production. While high-quality early efforts such as Avatar ($3 billion worldwide) and Alice in Wonderland ($116 million opening weekend) pulled in huge percentages of 3-D patrons, audiences swiftly got pickier about what they were going to pay for after getting burned on such B-efforts as Clash of the Titans and The Last Airbender. If you track opening weekend grosses on 3-D vs. 2-D, there's a precipitous drop from December 2009 to August 2010.
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Thompson on Hollywood

It's amazing how far the 3-D clock has turned in a short time. In classic Hollywood fashion, the industry seems to have cooked its own 3-D goose in just a few years. After talking theater owners across America into building some 5000 digital cinemas equipped with 3-D projectors, the studios have jumped eagerly onto the 3-D bandwagon, throwing one movie after the other into shoddy quickie retrofit post-production. While high-quality early efforts such as Avatar ($3 billion worldwide) and Alice in Wonderland ($116 million opening weekend) pulled in huge percentages of 3-D patrons, audiences swiftly got pickier about what they were going to pay for after getting burned on such B-efforts as Clash of the Titans and The Last Airbender. If you track opening weekend grosses on 3-D vs. 2-D, there's a precipitous drop from December 2009 to August 2010.

Sneak peak at Tron: Legacy is below.

When 3-D was still exotic and new and the quality of the films was high--Avatar became the biggest blockbuster of all time on the thrust of premium ticket sales---studios green-lit a rash of 3-D movies. When these films were on just a few screens, audiences rushed to see them. But clearly, some filmgoers got burnt by schlocky product and will decide what's worth paying extra dollars. James Cameron has stated his concern that badly executed 3-D, which he calls 2.5-D, could destroy all the industry's hard work building excitement for quality 3-D.
 
The numbers indicate two trends: early on there were fewer theaters and 3-D screenings were less frequent and more exotic. Later on moviegoers got used to 3-D, there were more bad films and more 3-D screens. Oddly, movies with 3-D in the title seemed to buck the downward trend, implying that it was the only way to see a movie like Piranha 3-D.
 
The more digital a movie is, the better and more immersive is the 3-D: Pixar’s Toy Story 3 and How to Train Your Dragon look great. But while the bloom is off the 3-D rose, there's evidence that given good reason to spend their cash, moviegoers will turn up when they perceive a real 3-D enhancement, especially the lure of entering a new digital universe like Pandora or Tron: Legacy's glowing blue game grid. The next 3-D breakout could be Disney's FX-crammed Tron: Legacy, which like Avatar, takes viewers into a new world.

Check out this Tron: Legacy (December 17) sneak peak:


 

This article is related to: Directors, Genres, Studios, Video, Digital Future, Exhibition, James Cameron, Sci-fi, Sequel, Disney , Trailers, 3D


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Thompson on Hollywood

Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.