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3D or Not 3D: Is the Thrill Gone at the Box Office?

Moviegoers last week favored traditional 2D versions of Monsters University and World War Z over the 3D versions

| BY Donald Liebenson

Reports of 3D’s demise may not be all that exaggerated. Hollywood business website The Wrap reports that moviegoers last weekend exhibited a significant preference for the traditional 2D versions of the box office hits, Monsters University and World War Z.

The 3D box office breakdown for the Pixar animated prequel was “the lowest percentage of any animated title in modern history,” while the zombie epic represented “the weakest 3D showing for any action film,” according to a cited report by B Riley analyst Eric Wold. Less than one-third (31 percent) of Monsters University’s $82 million opening weekend derived from 3D screenings. Roughly 34 percent of World War Z’s $66 million debut came from the premium ticket format.

The previous lowest-grossing 3D action movie, Captain America: the First Avenger, took 40 percent of its opening weekend grosses from 3D screenings, while Pixar’s previous animated film, Brave, earned 34 percent of its domestic opening from 3D, The Wrap reports.

What Hollywood loves about 3D is what audiences may be rebelling against: the extra $2 to $3 it costs to see a 3D film. Another reason for last weekend’s sluggish showing may have been a lack of 3D screens, with the recently released Man of Steel and Star Trek: Into Darkness vying for eyeballs.

While ardor for 3D may be cooling domestically, it remains a hit overseas. In China and Russia, 3D versions of films contribute between 80 percent to 90 percent of their box office take, Michael Lewis, the CEO and chairman of RealD, told The Wrap earlier this year. Domestically, that figure is between 40 percent to 60 percent.

Case in point: G.I. Joe: Retaliation, whose release was delayed for almost a year so it could be outfitted in 3D. The conversion paid off at the foreign box office ($80.3 million its opening weekend), but domestically, not as much (less than half—48 percent—of its domestic opening came from 3D showings), The Wrap said.

A Fitch Ratings report from last April forecast that 3D box office would decline this year for the first time since 2009, when Avatar put 3D back on the map. Meanwhile on the home front, 3D televisions are losing their coolness cachet to 4K resolution smart TVs, which were being given prominent play and marketing push at this year’s CES (Consumer Electronics Show).

Recently, ESPN announced it was pulling the plug on its ESPN 3D channel. “Due to limited viewer adoption of 3D services to the home, ESPN is discontinuing ESPN 3D,” spokeswoman Katina Arnold said in a statement.“Nobody knows more about sports in 3D than ESPN, and we will be ready to provide the service to fans if or when 3D does take off.”

About the Author

Donald Liebenson


Donald Liebenson writes news and features for Millionaire Corner. He has been published in the Chicago Tribune, The Chicago Sun-Times, The Los Angeles Times, Fiscal Times, Entertainment Weekly, Huffington Post, and other outlets. He has also served as a marketing writer for Chicago-based Questar Entertainment and distributor Baker & Taylor.  

A graduate of the University of Southern California, he is married with a college-age son. He also writes extensively about entertainment.