3D films struggle
3D films, cinema’s great hope, have become niche products
Voldemort looks no prettier in 3D
TEN years after it took off, Hollywood’s biggest film franchise has finally alighted from its broomstick. Between July 15th and July 17th Americans shelled out $169m to see “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2”—a record for any film, in nominal terms. But barely a third of the audience opted to watch the boy wizard battle his snake-faced foe in three dimensions.
Two years ago it seemed as though a new, improved 3D projection system could rescue a film business battered by falling DVD sales. Fully 71% of the box-office spending on “Avatar” on its opening weekend, in December 2009, went on the 3D version. The 3D showings of “Shrek Forever After” (amusing green monsters rather than earnest blue ones) accounted for 61% of American box-office spending. Cinemas generally charge at least $3 more for a 3D showing—far more than the glasses cost.
This lucrative business is now looking flat. Despite rapid growth in digital projectors and 3D-capable screens, the proportion of total box-office spending that goes on 3D has dropped this summer (see chart). Four of the past five 3D blockbusters—“Pirates of the Caribbean”, “Kung Fu Panda 2”, “Green Lantern” and “Harry Potter”—made more money from 2D screens on their opening weekend than from 3D ones. That was true of only one widely released 3D film last summer, and none the year before.
Richard Gelfond, the boss of IMAX, reckons customers have become picky. “People used to see something just because it was in 3D,” he says. Now they ask how much pleasure the glasses will add. The explosive “Transformers 3” did well in 3D; perhaps the 2D version was not sufficiently headache-inducing. The key to three-dimensional profits, then, is to put out hugely popular films with extraordinary special effects.