'Transformers 3' gives a much-needed boost to 3-D. But will it last?

Credit: Robert Zuckerman

Heading into this weekend, Hollywood’s once-hot-and-heavy love affair with 3-D was clearly on the rocks. Of this summer’s four major 3-D releases — Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, Kung Fu Panda 2, Green Lantern, and Cars 2 — not a single one managed to earn more than half of its opening-weekend grosses from 3-D. Compare that with the whopping 85 percent of Avatar’s box-office total hauled in by 3-D and you can see why enthusiasm for the format, once heralded as cinema’s biggest revolution since the advent of talkies, has been cooling over the last several months from Wall Street to the executive suites of Hollywood. (Not to mention among my own kids, who flatly refused to see Kung Fu Panda 2 any way other than, well, flatly.) Amid all the hand-wringing about the bursting of the 3-D bubble, the opening of Transformers: Dark of the Moon — which was given a major 3-D push by Paramount and director Michael Bay — was widely seen as a referendum on the state of the format, if not 3-D’s last stand.

Hollywood’s remaining 3-D proponents are breathing a little bit easier today. In the end, 60 percent of Transformers 3‘s domestic opening-weekend grosses came from 3-D, while overseas the figure was 70 percent. That certainly is a step in the right direction. It indicates that, while audiences are no doubt being pickier about when they choose to spring for those premium ticket prices, there is still a healthy demand out there for 3-D movies — at least when they involve giant robots. If nothing else, the added 3-D booty helped give Transformers 3 bragging rights as the biggest Fourth of July opening ever, despite the fact that the previous record-holder, Spider-Man 2, actually sold more tickets.

But will Transformers 3’s relatively strong performance in 3-D be enough to turn around perceptions and reignite enthusiasm for the format? Or will it be seen as just a brief and illusory uptick in a generally downward trend? With the first 3-D movie in the Harry Potter series due July 15 — and 3-D offerings from heavy-hitters like Steven Spielberg (The Adventures of Tintin, Dec. 23), Martin Scorsese (Hugo, Nov. 23), Peter Jackson (The Hobbit, Dec. 14, 2012), and James Cameron (the Avatar sequels and a 3-D Titanic) at various stages in the pipeline — Hollywood still has a major investment in the format. But do moviegoers have a long-term emotional investment in 3-D? That’s the real question, and the giant robots haven’t answered it. They just kicked the can down the road.

Read more:
‘Harry Potter’ tickets selling better in 2-D than 3-D: How will you see the film?
Are 3-D movies dying? Well, it’s complicated…
‘Titanic’ in 3-D gets release date

Comments (49 total) Add your comment
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  • The Dude

    The fact of the matter is, Hollywood did this to themselves. Like any good thing, 3-D films are fun in moderation…but when you force people to pay almost $15 a ticket for movies that actually look worse in 3-D, people are gonna get wise. Last year’s onslaught of post-conversion movies really annoyed a lot of people, including the casual film-goer. I personally like the format WHEN DONE RIGHT…if Hollywood can restrain itself and apply it to movies that may justly benefit from it, I think 3-D may have a long and good history ahead.

    • Jerry

      Exactly. Love or hate Avatar, no one can deny the 3D in it was amazing. I will pay extra for it when it’s done right

      • Jenn

        We don’t need 8 different articles about the same thing, EW.
        Give the Transformers stuff a rest.
        YES, we KNOW they bought a lot of ads in the print mags…but don’t make it SO obvious at all that this is yet another shiilll job.

      • Kevin

        Rotten Tomatoes was right. I should have gone to see something else.

      • alex

        People didn’t see “Kung Fu Panda 2″, “Green Lantern”, “Cars 2″ and “Pirates 4″ because they suck.

      • thin

        @alex: You missed the point (and what the article clearly states). It’s not that those movies didn’t make money, it’s that less than half of it was from 3D, which is a reversal of last year’s trend of having well over half the income coming from 3D showings.

    • rerun

      Agreed. I saw Transformers in 3D and it seemed okay. But I saw Green Hornet in 3D and it was pointless. Make it good and worth it or we’re going (or already are) jaded on the whole thing.

      • Tony

        Avatar Revolutionized it.

        The Last Airbender Ruined it..

      • Regina George

        No. Not Harry Potter. You can’t wait for Harry Potter to be available on Netflix. No way. And by the way, what’s up with that weird spam in the beginning of your post?

    • Melaswen

      3D will survive, thanks to the rest of the world. While it may be waning here look at the fact the Pirates 4 has made over a billion that got little to do with the U.S, more & more what a movie makes at home is fast becoming irrelevant, don’t get me wrong it still matters a lot but long gone are the days where a movie is made just for us.

    • jake

      You can’t expect an american family to shell out 50 percent more per ticket for every 3D movie to come out. If they wanted it to grow, they shouldn’t have had a sudden increase from 1-2 dollars to 5 dollars extra upcharge???? Sorry, it’s gonna pick and choose. They should do something about these upcharge fees — Harkins theaters here in arizona allow you to use their premium tickets to see 3D movie with no surcharge if it’s before 6. All theaters must do something about the prices.

    • Jonathan F.

      I initially bought my Harry Potter tickets in 3D because that was the only option. BUT then suddenly about a week later 2D options appeared (you see, I was checking frequently because 3D sucks). What did I do? I refunded my 3D tickets and bought 2D tickets instead. 3D will flounder. I hope. Especially if movies are continually only “converted” to 3D after the fact. If there are more like Avatar, then 3D might be here to stay.

      • Brandon

        Transformers was filmed with James Camerons 3d Cameras and equipment. James Cameran personally trained Micheal Bay. The 3D is the Second Movie ever done in proper 3D…Avatar was the first. It really feels like your looking through a glass. its very well done.

  • Josje

    I hate the fact that every article states that overseas, aka not USA, the demand for 3D is higher. It isn’t. It’s just that you can’t find the 2D version anywhere. If there’s an 3D version the cinema will play it, which I understand because it brings higher revenue because the ticketprices are higher. Still I hate 3D but I love film, so if I wanna see a movie so bad, like Harry Potter, I have to watch it in 3D even though the 3D part brings nothing to the table. I agree with the Dude that when done right 3D is awesome, otherwise just don’t do it…

    • Jenn

      EW doesn’t do research. They cut and paste directly from Press releases. It’s a joke.

    • Green

      This is so true, I am glad you said it. I live in one of the largest cities in Australia, but I still struggle to find 2D screenings. The rest of the world isnt choosing 3D, it is being forced upon them.

      • jake

        How is it forced upon people overseas — did someone force you to buy a ticket?

      • Green

        When they are not offering the option of 2D or 3D, yes they are forcing it, as I have to make the choice between 3D or not seeing it. The other choice is piracy, and I am pretty sure that the studios dont want that.

  • Bobby

    I’ll be happy when the whole 3D fad just goes away.It’s so over-rated.

  • Spirit Juggler

    honestly? I look forward to the day when 3D is dead. I can’t stand it. I saw Transformers 3 in 2d. I saw Green Lantern in 2D.Hollywood please please take the hint. 3D is NOT the way forward.

  • Mikey M

    Why can’t Hollywod get it through their mind, we don’t want it, just like we didn’t want it in the 80’s and the 50’s.

    • Jenn

      You’re a pathetic whiny sheep. Nobody’s FORCING it on you.

  • David

    When 3D is done properly (i.e. little-to-no post-conversion), it can look absolutely amazing. I’ve seen several movies in the format, but I have to say, the only two that were worth their salt were “Avatar” and “Transformers: Dark of the Moon.” I agree with previous posts that it has been done to death; perhaps had it been used in moderation, it would not leave such a bad taste in the mouths of moviegoers.

    • TimW (No, not that one)

      The problem isn’t post conversion. Nobody complains when explosions are added in post, or when buildings are created out of thin air, or actors are on sets instead of on location, or when movies are shot in daylight and tweaked to look like night. Post works. Most of the time it’s invisible. The problem is when 3D, whether in camera or in post, is done poorly. For now, I’m going to say “poorly” equals “not 3D enough.” Now look, somebody who doesn’t like 3D watches the movie in 2D, and still gets to exercise their god given right as Americans to complain anyway. “Boo-hoo. The existence of 3D is an affront to my morality and my elegantly refined artistic sensibilities. I’m so mad that I can’t stop crying! Boo-hoo!” Whatever. My problem is that I love 3D, but I don’t feel I’m getting my money’s worth. It’s all too timid. Transformers was soooo conservative! The only thing that came out of the screen was the lens flares. The problem will never be that haters hate. That’s what they do, and nothing can stop them. The problem will be that enthusiasts are no longer enthusiastic. What signaled the beginning of the end for me was when Michael Bay said that he wouldn’t do 3D unless it was tasteful. Michael Bay? Tasteful?!? A very, very bad sign. Without tasteless, extreme, exploitative crap, Hollywood would cease to exist. Turn off the lights. Move to Canada. The same thing is on the verge of happening with 3D. It’s not going to be killed by crap. It’s going to be killed by people trying to do 3D in good taste, instead of 3D that tastes good.

      • Jenn

        Cool story bro.

        (It’s just an expression for any your slowmos on here. Look it up.)

  • Dumbledore Fluffernutter

    The Harry Potter 3D sales will be closer to the 40% range than the 60%. To answer this article’s question, yes, the Transformers is just a blip in the downward trend of 3D sales and does not represent any change in that trend.

    • John

      Yeah, when Harry Potter’s 3D sales are anemic in a couple weeks, we’ll be back to the reality of 3D being dead.

      • Mike

        Only reason I got 3D tix for HP is because it’s the only way to see it on the IMAX. So, I’m just crossing my fingers that they did it well. From what I read, it sounds like they did. We’ll see!

    • Heather P

      HP7 PtII is going to be the first movie I’ve ever seen in 3D. Avatar I saw in 2D and it was impressive enough. The only reason I’m seeing HP in 3D is because I got the tickets for free. If I had to pay for them, I’d see 2D.

  • Biff Starbuck

    3-D is fine for certain movies. At least we haven’t been bombarded with Bad Teacher 3-D or similar movies. The films HAVE to be shot in 3-D. The conversion crap sucks. But why can’t I keep the glasses and not pay the surcharge? This is bull that everytime I see a 3-D movie I get charged more. I’ve gotten so picky with movies when I know I can buy it on DVD or Blu-ray in three months, own it, for less than a price of two adult admissions.

    • Jenn

      Your simpleness is almost unbelievable.
      The surcharge isn’t for the 20 cent glasses. The extra money goes to the studios to help cover production and marketing costs. Grow up.

      • Fallon

        Are you just replying to everyone and insulting them all? Can’t rest until you’ve made fun of everyone on the internet?

      • nick

        so 3D movie tickets cost more in order for the studio to recoup production and marketing costs?? I guess 2D movies don’t need the extra surcharges because they don’t have to pay for marketing and production then. correct??

      • Emme

        The upcharge is not for marketing and production; it goes to pay for the digital projectors and extra equipment needed to show the film. Digitial projectors and 3-D lenses cost much more than your traditional 35mm projector.

  • westonovich

    Avatar was an immersive 3D experience that warranted the surcharge. It let us glimpse a new universe. Most 3D is dumb. The story doesn’t warrant the 3rd dimension. I have hopes that the Robots of Transformers will, but the wizarding world of Harry Potter will be seen in 2D.

  • trayntp

    POST-CONVERTED 3D has ruined 3D.

    Idiot studios converted movies to try to make some extra money, and idiot people went into those converted movies not thinking about whether or not they were filmed in 3D, or converted after the fact.

    Those made in 3D almost always are GOOD 3D, and those converted almost most always are terrible 3D.

    Most of the movies that people saw in 3D were converted films. Those are the ones audiences should see in 2D. Movies like Transformers 3 & Avatar were made for 3D.

    • Jenn


      • WB

        go away.. in 3d or 2d. don’t care. just go.

  • John Huston

    “Avatar” was ripped off from the short story “Call Me Joe” by Poul Andersen. “Raiders of the Lost Ark” was ripped off from “Secret of the Incas”, with Charlton Heston, Paramount, 1954 (you can see “Secret…” on YouTube), etc. Hollywood is filled with no-talent egomaniacs who steal from others. 3d is a gimmick, it comes and goes through the decades. Most movie-goers are under the age of 30, so movies pander to juvenile tastes. The best movies were made in the 1920’s. Hollywood is just a bunch of desperate, no-talent wannabes. We should not patronize such egregious, repugnant people.

    • WillFerrellStinks

      And then ?

    • Aidan

      Random troll rant of the day!
      Thanks a lot, Josh!

      P.S. This is sarcasm if you couldn’t tell

  • Corey

    From the trailers I’ve seen there is nothing about Harry Potter that warrants 3D. When the Transformers trailer was revealed I knew instantly that I was going to see it in 3D. People have gotten wise to what looks 3D worthy and what doesn’t.

  • movienick

    HEY STUDIOS GET THE HINT if its filmed in 3d with 3d cameras, like transformers,avatar,resident evil etc its great but converation sucks dont be lazy. 3d rocks and since i need to wear glasses to watch movies wearing another pair doesnt bother me. imax 3d is the best by way.

  • CC

    I hate 3D. My eyes never adjust and I spend the whole movie with a horrible headache. If my only option to watch a movie in theaters was 3D, I’d wait for ANY movie to be available on Netflix. Even something like Harry Potter!

  • commentr

    @Aldan, try this if you want SwipeBay.com

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