'Pirates of the Caribbean': Why didn't more American moviegoers opt to see Jack Sparrow in 3-D?


Image Credit: Peter Mountain

Last weekend, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides earned a staggering $260.4 million overseas — the largest foreign debut ever. Much of its success could be attributed to 3-D screenings, which accounted for 66 percent of the movie’s overseas gross. Some countries particularly embraced the 3-D format; in China and Russia, for instance, 3-D showings represented 85 and 71 percent of the film’s revenue, respectively. But 3-D is still a new and attractive selling point in many foreign markets. In America, the numbers tell a different story.

Domestically, Pirates‘ 3-D showings accounted for just 46 percent of its $90.2 million opening, according to Disney. That’s a sharp percentage drop from such other 3-D event films as Avatar (71 percent), Alice in Wonderland (70 percent), and TRON: Legacy (82 percent). Furthermore, since the start of 2009, only one other wide-release 3-D movie has garnered a lower 3-D percentage, and that was last year’s Despicable Me with 45 percent. But Despicable Me can hide behind the defense that many young kids don’t like wearing 3-D glasses — an argument that holds less weight for the more adult (and PG-13 rated) Pirates. The 3-D numbers for Pirates appear particularly dire when you discount ticket prices and look solely at attendance figures. According to BTIG Research analyst Richard Greenfield, 63 percent of Pirates‘ audience opted for the flat 2-D version, despite the fact that roughly half of the movie’s screens were projecting it in 3-D.

So what happened, Jack Sparrow? One possible explanation is that audiences could be suffering from 3-D fatigue. Back in 2009, studios released about one 3-D film per month. Compare that to this year’s month of May, which has seen a major 3-D release every weekend. “Part of this is the competitive nature of more films being released [in 3-D] today,” says Dave Hollis, Disney’s executive VP of theatrical exhibition sales and distribution. Another factor that may be at play are those 3-D surcharges — are moviegoers starting to push back at the idea of paying significantly more for one extra dimension? At the AMC Century City theater in Los Angeles, a 3-D adult ticket costs $17.50 and a child ticket is $14.50. Thus, a family of four is looking at a $64 proposition — and that’s without popcorn, soda, and candy.

While both of those factors could have contributed to Pirates‘ underwhelming 3-D performance, they don’t explain why the movie’s three-dimensional portion was lower than other recent movies like Thor, which earned 60 percent of its gross from 3-D, or The Green Hornet (69 percent). Part of the problem could have been that Disney didn’t heavily advertise the 3-D aspect of Pirates. Disney’s commercials and trailers often mentioned the film’s 3-D component at the very end, as if it were a mere afterthought. As a result, moviegoers may have believed Pirates had undergone a quickie 3-D conversion, a la Clash of the Titans, when in fact the film had been shot with 3-D cameras.

However, the theory that may make the most sense is simply this: The prior Pirates movies were in 2-D. It’s one thing to launch a franchise with 3-D from the beginning, but it’s another to persuade audiences to make the switch four films in. Moviegoers had already spent 463 minutes with a 2-D Jack Sparrow — to the tune of $1 billion domestically — and many were seemingly fine with continuing the series that way. The third Chronicles of Narnia movie, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, suffered a similar fate last year. That movie was the franchise’s first to be presented in three dimensions, but 3-D showings only accounted for 54 percent of its opening. Some sequels can successfully add 3-D to the equation if it becomes their main selling point — see Jackass 3D and Saw 3D. But in the case of Pirates and Narnia, the new entries didn’t scream 3-D, making it harder for many moviegoers to justify paying the extra moolah.

“It’s going to ebb and flow on a picture-by-picture basis,” says Hollis. “But choice is good for moviegoers. There’s a percentage of the audience that doesn’t necessarily need 3-D, and they should have an option to not have to pay for it. And there are people who love their 3-D experience. We’re not going to release every one of our films in 3-D. But when you think about the tent poles and those broadest-reaching movies, to not make it in 3-D because there’s a slice of the audience that doesn’t like it in 3-D is counterintuitive.”

All eyes will now be on Paramount’s Transformers: Dark of the Moon and Warner Bros.’ Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2. Both films are being released in 3-D, despite the fact that their predecessors were shown in 2-D. And both studios are making a point to heavily promote their movies’ 3-D component. Maybe moviegoers will think Transformers and Harry Potter merit the 3-D experience more than Pirates did. Or maybe, like Pirates, a surprising amount of the audience will stick with the 2-D versions. Either way, expect box-office fireworks.

Comments (132 total) Add your comment
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  • Jenckles

    Why don’t more people in North America watch the new pirates in 3D?
    Because they don’t want to see Johnny’s tired and exhausted old face in the 3rd dimension. Not to mention the movie sucks and isn’t worth the admission price.

    • first time U.S. audiences have made me proud in A WHILE


    • LOL

      America is finally tiring of crap?

      • Jay

        No they aren’t… American Idol is still the #1 show on TV

        That is all the proof you need that America LOVES crap

      • Quirky

        We have to wait and see how Transformers 3 does before we know for sure the USA is sick of crap.

    • alison

      Actually, the movie was a lot of fun, it’s just that the whole 3-D thing is just not. It’s a trend whose time has come and gone. And none to soon

      • no

        3D is cool when you see spectacular movies (avatar) or bad movies that are funny (piranha 3d)… potc = neither

      • Hiro Kitty

        Nope. It was a piece of crap. You must looooooove garbage!

      • Lorrie

        If you only have one working eye, 3-D glasses don’t work. It’s just as well that I have no reason to waste money on a gimmick. I can go to more 2-D movies with the money I save.

    • Jae

      Seeing this movie in 3d would not have added anything to the experience. I have told all my friends to see it in 2d. no need to pay that extra money.

      • mallory

        same here!

      • Ally

        I think 3D is just annoying. Saw one movie that was 3D- and images aren’t as sharpe..its just weird. I just rather watch a really crisp picture. Not to mention that yea- $18 to see a movie is RIDICULOUS.

      • CandaceTX

        been burned too many times paying the extra $$ for 3D only to see that it didnt add anything to experience (yeah, I’m talkin ’bout you.. Tron and Thor).

        I can only name two recent movies where the 3d was worth it: Up and Avatar (of course). Everything else – it’s just not worth the dough.

    • Ian

      Eh, people have gone in droves to see far FAR worse movies. The real answer is far more simple: nobody wants to pay those 3D prices.

      • District 12

        I don’t want to pay 12.50 to see a movie in 3-D no matter what it is

    • tipsy

      Lol, so true. I had 3D and 2D option in my cinema and since previews for POTC:OST didn`t look all that great, I decided to pay less for the movie.

    • Ian

      Because the 3d sucked in it. Avatar’s 3d was amazing. Basically this..make 3d essential and not a waste of time.

      • Marcie

        This! Don’t make a 2D movie with a handful of 3D effects thrown in and maybe people will be willing to pay the extra $$

    • Cygnus

      3D hasnt been used to its fullest in most movies that are released as “3D”. It’s just a gimmick to get watchers to pay more for less. Avatar and Tron are the only two movies that I can say that I truly enjoyed in 3D. All others are crap. The one movie that wouldve wowed in 3D is Inception, and that didnt happen. I havent seen Pirates 4 yet, but I’ll watch it in 2D as well. Costs wayyy to much to pay for a limited effect.

    • anti

      Yes,yes….its crap form the 1st one, thats why american kids has lower IQ than the rest of the world because their brain are feed with all this crap.

  • Lili

    Because I simply hate the 3D experience. I like my movies in a classical form. It’s my way of escaping reality. And I’m sad at the prospect of not going to see HP part 2 in theater if they only offer 3D.

    • Alex

      The movie was fun. My family and I enjoyed it. We only saw it in 3D because it was the only one with good seats left. The glasses become painfully uncomfortable after a while and it takes away from the cinematography. And to pay extra for it? No thanks. And what “Parthi” said.

    • bob

      Let me count the ways of why I hate 3D. Glasses, don’t enjoy only staring straight ahead and not being able to move my head, the motions, the effects are not spectacular, and oh yeah, the cost! I already pay $10 to go to a movie, why would I want to pay $5 more for 3D? Not worth it!

  • MovieBuff

    Because Pirates 4 has nothing to offer short of Johnny Depp’s rum-stained teeth in 3D…

    • elcamino

      The mermaid was hot. But other than that I’ll opt on just watching the next one on dvd. It was tiresome and same old rehashed stuff.

    • Mika

      actually I saw the movie this weekend in 2-D and really enjoyed it. But that’s because I saw no reason to see all the gorgeous colors of hawaii and the carribean muted and dulled through 3-D glasses. 3-D still is substandard when it comes to light & color quality in a film.

      • Richard

        Well, I snapped a few felrows today. Sheesh, there’s blossom aplenty here in the fens all of a sudden. Lilac day! I shall whisper to my neighbour’s lilac tree and see if it obliges.

      • Katarzyna

        in the preschool drop-off line. If you want to see more Sweet Shots, head on over to Darcy’s Sweet Shot Tuesday. You can even enter your own phoots! And if you aren’t prepared to enter this week, pick up

  • miss k

    Because 3D is ridiculously expensive. Because movies in general are ridiculously expensive. I know my friends and I (and I’m sure plenty others) already have movie-hopping plans and sneaking junk food in to the theater. No way in heck I’m spending an extra $3-4 to wear a pair of glasses for 2 hours.

  • Fish

    It costs more, it gives some people headaches, it makes the picture on the screen darker, and a crappy film is still crappy in 3D. Go figure.

  • erik

    The only movies I see in 3d (other than Avatar)are the animated ones. I feel like an “adult movie” should be able to stand on it’s own without 3D. Plus, I think animated movies really lend themselves to 3D much better. Green Lantern might change that due to the way his “power” works, that might be the only 3D movie I see this year.

  • Flip

    Because, honestly, 3D doesn’t add much to the experience, and it’s ridiculously overpriced as well.

  • dee123

    How much do U.S cinemas charge for 3D screenings? Here in Sydney it cost $21.00, although right now the Aussie dollar is worth more than the U.S one.

    • MsSuniDaze

      What???? $21.00 for one ticket?

      • dee123

        We also pay $2.19 for most songs on i-tunes.

      • Quang

        I am to the point that I just want to see some really good hkcoey. No antics, no behind- the- ref’s- back dirty hits, no wasted energy put into antics by a team that knows it cant measure up. I think we will have good clean hkcoey with the Eagles. Looking so forward to it. GO RUSH!

    • District 12

      14.50-16.50 depending on the theaters here in Colorado versus 9.00-10.50 for a regular ticket

  • Halden

    It all comes down to money. Studios get to charge more for 3D(in itself a new concept). Movie specifically shot in 3D are going to be better than films turned into 3D. For those of us visually impaired,3D is a joke. 3D is a gimmick that allows studios to make more money on an unsuspecting public. Kinda pathetic

  • jasmine

    I watched it today in 2-D and it was perfectly fine. I would’ve loved to have seen Johny Depp’s face in 3-D but I didn’t want to spend $16 for a ticket. Loved the movie though! Best one yet!

    • Brad

      I hate It when people say this… I know it isn’t as good as the first one. The first movie was awesome, the other 2 sucked! If you can admit to me that #3 is one of the worst movies ever made, I will give #4 a chance, otherwise I am concluding you are an obsessed girl blushing over Depp the entire time and not even paying attention to the storyline. Seriously #1 Awesome, #3 The Worst.

  • Parthi

    The movie was great,but there wasn’t much scope for 3D in the film,so its better to watch it in 2D.

  • Shakespeare

    I have seen a lot of 3D movies because I’m a teach nerd. Let me tell you this, the 3D movie experience is not all that great, and I’m even talking about AVATAR, for some reason it doesn’t suck you into the world, which 3D is supposed to capture and do. On the other hand I love watching 3D at home on the digital television, it sucks you in like you are actually there. For what reason I don’t know, just saying 3D movies tend to work a lot better on the small screen..

    • Brian

      I agree that 3D movies don’t pull me more into the movie’s story/world; they actually push me out of it because the edges of the screen are more apparent when 3D objects vanish as they “float” offscreen. I know it shouldn’t make a difference when people/objects move out of frame in a 2D movie anyway, but I don’t end up noticing it as much in 2D. If it’s a good movie, I’ll be absorbed by the story, not the 3D.
      Plus, there’s no way I’m paying extra for 3D, no matter how good the technology is. I’ll wait for virtual reality movies where they can put me into the film. haha

  • Kev Ev

    Maybe if 3D didn’t suck more people would view it. Face the facts, people don’t like 3D. To pay extra for it in this economy is bonkers. The quality is AWFUL!

    • james

      LOL! You’re telling us to face facts? Fact is, exit polls found a 94% favorable rating for the 3D version of POTC, and an 81% for the 2D shows.

      What’s odd to me is, how is it the most outspoken, most opinionated people on the internet are on the “It sucks” side? Maybe it’s because the people who like 3D say it with their wallets, and the people who hate 3D have no other way to say it than to say it on the internet.

      • Raptor

        BINGO !

        I watched both in 2d & 3d – The IMAX 3d show was indeed better than the the 2d version , if you can afford it it is better.

  • Kev Ev

    And to add to the previous, I avoid 3D like the plague. It sucks, the technology sucks, and it is just plain awful. I’ll take a regular 2D movie any day over 3D. Last thing I want to do is leave a movie physically sic because of 3D. Going to see a movie in general is TOO DAMN EXPENSIVE!

  • Kev Ev

    And I plan to see many movies this summer, just none in 3D. Already saw THOR not in 3D, Captain America, Cars 2, Green Lantern, and a few others, none will be seen in 3D. Oh, and I saw TRON Legacy when it came out, and not in 3D. I’ve seen 2 movies in 3D and the quality was GARBAGE!

    • Quirky

      Actually Tron Legacy was the only movie that I liked the 3D. All of the scenes in the real world were in standard 2D, while all of the scenes in the Tron world were shot in 3D. It was the only time I felt 3D actually added to the movie experience.

    • Brad

      3D does suck…Why not HD on the big screen? Giant LED screens would be the shiznight. There is a reason 3D phased out the first time James, it sucks. When the technology advances past glasses and dull colors, I will be all over it, until then I’d prefer 2D.

      • Osama

        I wouldn’t delay on that Aaron but make sure you’re giettng insurance for the right reasons. I’ve always felt insurance is to replace your income so your family can survive if you die unexpectedly. Later in life it can be used as an estate planning and wealth transfer tool but I don’t like using insurance for that until I’ve maxed out all my other tax-advantaged investments.

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