Monday, June 6, 2011

3D by the numbers. Are we really being flooded with 3D movies? Which studios are the biggest offenders?

This is merely the results of a casual data pull, using the information available from Box Office Mojo related to 3D cinema before and after Avatar.  As the 3D fad seems on the precipice of leveling out, I wanted to take a look at the numbers.  The question I wanted to answer is: Is the reason there are so many 3D movies because the studios are releasing a whole bunch of 3D product, or because there are enough studios releasing pictures that every studio releasing a few per year leads to a perceived glut?  And just which studios are releasing the bulk of these 3D movies, and is there any pattern to be construed?  I can't pretend that I discovered any astonishing connections or correlations, but there is enough information here to make it worth a gander.  Here's what I came up with...

Box Office Mojo lists 86 3D films that have been released between 1982 and 2011 up through Kung Fu Panda 2.  By the time 2011 has ended, there will be 108 films shot in or converted to 3D format.  Of those films, 35 of them were released prior to 2003.  2003 saw the release of the IMAX James Cameron documentary Ghosts of the Abyss as well as Robert Rodriguez's Spy Kids 3D: Game Over.  The latter picture, which opened with $33 million and ended with $111 million in the late summer of 2003.  It's notable because it was the first wide-release 3D feature since Freddy's Dead: The Final Nightmare, which was released in late 1991 with a climax that required 3D glasses (for the purposes of this article, I am not counting traditionally released films that had small segments show in 3D in IMAX theaters such as Superman Returns, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, and Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince).  If you're talking full-length 3D features, you have to go back to 1985 with Starchaser: The Legend of Orin.  Of course, for all intents and purposes, the modern 3D era began in November of 2004, with Robert Zemeckis's The Polar Express.  I cannot quite explain the thrill that I had watching that film in IMAX 3D nearly seven years ago.  It really was a technological breakthrough and the best way I can summarize my feelings back then is to quote Ian Malcolm in Jurassic Park: "He (Robert Zemeckis) did it... the crazy son of a bitch did it!"

There were thirty-one (31) 3D films between The Polar Express in late 2004 and Avatar in late 2009.  Of those, 24 were either animated features, nature documentaries, or concert films.  During that time, there were only five live-action 3D films that ended up in wide-release: The Adventures of Shark Boy and Lava Girl (2006), Journey to the Center of the Earth (2008), My Blood Valentine (2009), G-Force (2009, and The Final Destination (2009).  So for the sake of the current 3D era, we will be talking strictly from a post-Avatar period, which is basically 2010-2012.  So what do we discover?

Well, first of all, there were twenty-five 3D releases in 2010, including two small releases (Hubble IMAX 3D and The Nutcracker) and a release of Avatar in August 2010.  Despite all of the press surrounding those cursed quickie-conversions of live-action tentpoles, 2/3 (sixteen) of the 3D films consisted of animated films and B-movies that were either shot in 3D or clearly intended to be in 3D (Step Up 3D, Jack-Ass 3D, Tron: Legacy, Resident Evil: Afterlife, etc).  There were actually only nine 3D conversions over the entire calendar year: Alice In Wonderland, Clash of the Titans, The Last Airbender, Cats and Dogs 2, My Soul to Take, The Nutcracker, Chronicles of Narnia: Voyage of the Dawn Treader, Gulliver's Travels, and Yogi Bear.  And Alice In Wonderland was a conversion that was probably intended to be in 3D long before Avatar.  Of these 25 films, five were Disney products (Alice In Wonderland, Tangled, Tron: Legacy, Step Up 3D, and Toy Story 3), and all but Alice In Wonderland were obvious long-in-development 3D projects. Three were Dreamworks animated films, three were Fox releases (including the Avatar re-release), Paramount and Lionsgate had two each, and four studios (Sony, Universal, Freestyle, and Weinstein Company) had one 3D release in the 2010 year.  The main culprit in 2010 was Warner Bros, which had five 3D films, three of which were cheap conversions (Clash of the Titans, Yogi Bear, Cats and Dogs 2: the Revenge of Kitty Galore).

So now we get to 2011, where the 3D fad explodes.  Since films generally take a couple years to produce and release, the films that would attempt to cash in on Avatar would really arrive en mass over the next two years.  And indeed in the calendar year of 2011, we will have a stunning forty-five (45!) films either shot in or converted to 3D.  And as I wrote back in January, most of those will be coming in the latter half of the year, creating a massive glut of 3D product sucking up screens at the same time.  For example, on August 19th, three studios will be releasing major 3D pictures: Spy Kids 4: All the Time In the World (Weinstein), Fright Night (Disney), and Conan the Barbarian (Lionsgate).  So let's take a look and see which studios are releasing the most 3D product.  Disney has six 3D releases, which includes three original cartoons and the release of The Lion King.  If you count is various branches, Paramount has eight 3D releases this year.  Four of those are actually from Paramount proper, including Transformers: Dark of the Moon, Justin Bieber: Never Say Never, and two films that any studio should be happy to have on their slate: Martin Scorsese's Hugo Cabret and the Steven Spielberg/Peter Jackson team-up The Adventures of Tin Tin.  The other four are two Dreamworks cartoons (Kung Fu Panda 2 and Puss In Boots) and two Marvel movies (Thor and Captain America. There are six studios that have a single 3D film this year (Universal, Lionsgate, IFC, BFA, FMP, and Reliance).  Sony has four films and Relativity has two.  20th Century Fox, Weinstein Company, and Summit Entertainment each have three such pictures (once again, to Summit's credit, Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn part I will remain in 2D for now).  I must note the irony that 20th Century Fox, the studio that released Avatar, has been comparably stingy with 3D product, releasing three this year and three last year (and one of last year's Fox films was a co-financed Walden production while a second was the noted Avatar re-release).  Once again, the apparent villain in this glut of 3D product appears to be Warner Bros.  They have nine (9!) films for 2011 that are shot in or converted to 3D.  At least four of the nine pictures are cash-grab 3D conversions for films that damn-well would have been smash hits anyway (Green Lantern, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows part II, Sherlock Holmes: Game of Shadows, and A Very Harold and Kumar Christmas).  The others are two nature films (Born to Be Wild, A Dolphin's Tale), two needless sequels that theoretically benefit from 3D (Happy Feet 2 and Final Destination 5), and a Steven Soderbergh thriller (Contagion).

There is much we don't know about the 2012 slate, but there are at least 29 films already slated to be in 3D next year, including two very high-profile 3D-converted rereleases (Star Wars Episode One: The Phantom Menace and Titanic) and two major comic book adventures (The Avengers and The Amazing Spider-Man).  What's shocking is how in-the-game Sony is next year.  With one release in 2010 and four in 2011, they already have seven 3D releases for next year.  That includes two animated films, one web-slinging reboot, and  four (!) 3D sequels (Resident Evil 5, Underworld 4, Men In Black 3, and Ghost Rider 2). Fox usually has shown restraint in the post-Avatar 3D era, but next year they go all-in with five releases, including the aforementioned Star Wars re-release, Ridley Scott's Prometheus, and a fourth Ice Age film.  One encouraging sign is that the three most anticipated sequels of next year (The Dark Knight Rises, Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn part II, and Star Trek: We Won't Title This Movie Until The Last Minute) are so far set to go 2D only. So even with the astonishing number of 3D films headed our way over the next 18 months, there remains a chance that it may be a temporary issue.  Point being, if the three above sequels vastly outgross the other pictures, including the 3D tentpoles, studios might theoretically realize that, as I've said a hundred times, 'It's the movie, stupid!'.

Even so, looking at this information, something becomes apparent.  It is not so much an issue of every studio flooding the theaters with 3D product so much as one or two studios going nuts with 3D every year and the rest of the studios just tossing in 1-3 products throughout the year.  So the obvious solution for the longterm survival of 3D (aside from the obvious answer of making sure that 2D options are readily available for most such films) is for every studio to be a bit pickier in regards to what gets the 3D treatment.  Of the nine Warner Bros 3D films out this year, only one (Final Destination 5) arguably benefits from the 3D treatment.    The rest are either documentaries or cash-grab conversions.  And don't pretend that every one of Sony's 2012 sequel/reboots NEEDS the allegedly immersive properties of 3D.  Remember, when everyone is special, no one is.  And frankly, one of the reasons that the coming 3D storm seem so severe is that they were so poorly spaced out.  As I noted before, the huge majority of this year's 3D films are coming out during the July-December portion of the year.  Next year it looks a bit more spaced out, which will also help maintain the potential for 2D options for these 3D movies.  Other than that, I don't have any grand thesis.  I just wanted to look at the post-Avatar 3D era and see what popped up.

Scott Mendelson

1 comment:

Bigzilla said...

Thanks for doing the research on this, Scott. I was interested in this trend as well. That said, it's very difficult to read this as presented. I know this would've taken a lot more time than was worth it, but an infographic about this would have been much more effective (and might be a good idea for someone else to do going forward). But yeah, handing out this info in this way is very hard to get through without going cross-eyed.

The best part is, we don't even have to start a movement to kill the 3D trend. Hollywood will kill it all by itself via saturation. Audiences (though slow to come to the realization), are slowly starting to figure out they're being had. I love going to sold out midnight shows of 2D presentations of big 3D releases.


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