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August 09, 2021

3D movie box office numbers are fading fast

If there’s one certainty about 3D movies and their presence in the current film climate, it’s this: they’re not stopping anytime soon.1162961_3-d_man

Even now, by my count, there are about four 3D movies in theatres (Cats & Dogs, Despicable Me, the Step Up  sequel and Toy Story 3) where before – back when Avatar  was reinventing the 3D trend near the end of 2009 – just one of them at a time was enough to send movie-goers flocking to the big screens.

So it stands to reason that, with so many 3D movies now in theatres, film studios are raking it in from them more than ever, right? Right?

Well, as it turns out, while Avatar’s  runaway success signalled the ballooning of James Cameron’s bank account, it also prefaced one glaring misconception about the 3D movie market.

Namely, for instance, that the trend was everlasting. Because since Avatar’s  record-breaking theatrical release, by available industry data, 3D box office revenue has steadily declined at most every new attempt at a three-dimensional picture.

Indeed, following Avatar’s  $77 million opening weekend haul, the percentage of each subsequent 3D film’s box office revenue earned from its 3D (not 2D) screenings has fallen with remarkable consistency.

771223_movie_house According to movie industry site, no one has come close to matching Avatar’s  71 per cent opening weekend 3D revenue since – a downward spiral that bottomed out with the latest 3D debut, Despicable Me, earning just 45 per cent of its opening weekend gate from 3D screenings.

In between, 3D releases of How To Train Your Dragon  (68 per cent of opening weekend revenue from 3D), Shrek Forever After  (61 per cent), Toy Story 3  (60 per cent) and The Last Airbender  (56 per cent) bridged the faltering gap between 3D wonder Avatar  and 3D blunder Despicable Me.

Surely, there are reasons for this. For one, unlike Avatar, which was designed, conceived and produced with James Cameron’s vision for a 3D masterpiece, films since have been – perhaps rightly so – accused of debuting in 3D as a cheap patch to boost box office revenue. The idea here being, movies like The Last Airbender  have no business being three-dimensional, and their post-production visual effects do little to enhance the experience of the film.

And then there is the frightening-for-movie-execs idea that the 3D novelty is simply wearing off. It’s a pain to pay $5 or so extra for a 3D movie ticket, it’s not easy for young children to keep 3D glasses on for two hours – as a source tells TheWrap, this is a major issue for producers of 3D family film producers – and, without original 3D visions such as Avatar  flooding the theatres, both of these factors lend the public to tire from rushing to catch a 3D picture.

Does this mean 3D is a dud? Of course not. They’re still raking in hundreds of millions, and the next Harry Potter  movie – which will be in 3D when it comes out this fall – is bound to at least humour the $1 billion worldwide box office mark.

But with almost sixty 3D releases to hit theatres over the next two years, studios might want to start tempering their expectations for just how 3D will boost their bottom lines from now on.

By Jason Buckland, MSN Money



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Gordon PowersGordon Powers

A long-time fund company executive, Gordon Powers now heads up the Affinity Group, a financial services consulting firm. Gordon was a personal finance columnist for the Globe & Mail for many years, has taught retirement planning...

James HaversJames Havers

James is the senior editor of MSN Money living in Toronto. He has worked for the Nikkei Shimbun (Tokyo),,, Canadian Business and other publications. Havers turned to journalism after teaching overseas.

Jason BucklandJason Buckland

The modern-day MC Hammer of money, Jason can often be seen spending cash that isn’t his with the efficiency of a Wilt Chamberlain first date. After cutting his teeth as a reporter for the Toronto Sun, he joined the MSN Money team with...