Top 12 Film Industry Stories of 2009:
#6: 3D Films Permeate Marketplace

By David Mumpower

January 1, 2010

He'd like to offer you a hand.

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There were as many 3D releases between January and July of 2009 as there had been in totality since the inception of the technology. Fifteen 3D titles made their debut during the calendar year. Not all of them were successful. You may not have even heard of Battle for Terra or Astro Boy. Judging by their box office, I would be surprised if you did. And Planet 51, a Sony release no less, didn't do much better. The Jonas Brothers also proved that they were no Hannah Montana. There was even an attempt at making extreme sports more exciting with X Games 3D, but it failed as well. That's five RealD releases that had a combined domestic total of only $80.8 million. If a distributor and exhibitor are spending the money required to utilize 3D technology, they damn sure better be getting a better rate of return than $20 million a release.

The 3D titles that did highlight the technology almost all seemed to blow up, though. The My Bloody Valentine remake demonstrated this. Its trailers heavily emphasized the in your face nature of the slicing and dicing the movie contained. The end result was that this, the first RealD release of over a thousand locations, had a surprising $21.2 million debut. Lionsgate confirmed that the 3D exhibitions were a factor of six (!) more lucrative than the regular ones. Not only were the ticket prices more expensive, the novelty of the movie-going experience had proved to be a draw as well.


The next large scale RealD release was Coraline, the theatrical adaptation of BOP fave Neil Gaiman's instant classic. The marketing for this title also heavily emphasized its 3D nature and the proof was in the pudding. After a modest but pleasantly surprising $16.8 million opening weekend, Coraline showed tremendous legs on the way to a final domestic tally of $75.3 million. This release also demonstrated the tightrope act that exhibitors face in deciding which products to sell at a given location at a given time. Due to the overwhelming success of Hannah Montana the previous year, many RealD equipped locations chose to take away exhibitions from Coraline and give them to the Jonas Brothers Concert Movie. That proved to be a costly mistake. The mega-expensive stadium theaters equipped with RealD technology were almost entirely empty while 2D showings of Coraline quietly plugged along at a cheaper ticket price. If you are going to pull one 3D release in order to display another one, you have to be absolutely certain that the new product will outsell the old product. Otherwise, the revenue losses in terms of opportunity cost are exponentially worse.

The most important moments for 3D up until December involved DreamWorks Animation and Pixar releases. Monsters Vs. Aliens was technically the second title from DreamWorks to feature RealD. It was, however, the first one to be released after they had announced the intention for all future releases from their studio to feature this technology. As such, its success was an imperative and that mission was accomplished. The sweet but bland title wound up only $1.7 million short of $200 million in domestic box office. It is currently the eighth most successful release of the year. Meanwhile, Pixar aka DreamWorks Animation++ also announced that all future releases would utilize RealD. Up was the first Pixar (not Disney) title to utilize the technology. Its box office soared to new heights thanks to the inflated ticket pricing, eventually winding up with $293 million in domestic revenue. That makes it the second most lucrative Pixar release to date. The studio followed Up with a double feature re-release of Toy Story and Toy Story 2 in order to highlight next year's release of Toy Story 3. Audiences threw another $30.6 million Pixar's way as a sign of gratitude for this decision.

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