3-D hits an all-time low with 'Despicable Me 2'

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Image Credit: Illumination Entertainment

Blockbuster sequel Despicable Me 2 earned $143 million over the extended Fourth of July weekend — and although its debut marked a high point at the summer box office, it also marked a low point for 3-D ticket sales.

According to Universal, only 27 percent of Despicable Me 2‘s opening-weekend gross came from 3-D tickets, the lowest 3-D share in modern box office history. Notably, the record low comes just two weeks after Monsters University notched a 31 percent 3-D share on its opening weekend, which at the time was the worst 3-D performance ever. Poor 3-D ticket sales aren’t just plaguing recent animated films, either. Brad Pitt’s live-action zombie thriller World War Z only earned 34 percent of its debut total from 3-D tickets, and The Great Gatsby fared even worse. Despite the fact that Baz Luhrmann’s use of 3-D was a primary selling point for Gatsby, 3-D ticket sales only accounted for 33 percent of its opening weekend.

These percentages mark a decisive downturn in 3-D’s popularity with American moviegoers, who have generally embraced the enhanced format over the last five years.

In 2009 and 2010, during the heyday of 3-D, films like Avatar (71 percent share), Alice in Wonderland (70 percent), and Tron Legacy (82 percent) added tens of millions of dollars to their opening-weekend grosses with 3-D ticket sales. Hollywood quickly doubled down on the format — sending the number of 3-D wide releases skyrocketing from 15 in 2009 to 36 in 2012. By 2012, though, it already appeared that 3-D was losing some of its luster, as the industry observed lower shares for films like Transformers: Dark of the Moon (60 percent), Thor (60 percent), and The Avengers (52 percent). These days, even highly anticipated box office titans like Iron Man 3 (45 percent), Star Trek Into Darkness (45 percent), and World War Z have trouble cracking the 50 percent threshold.

Family films have been hit particularly hard lately. Of course, it should be noted that they’ve never been quite as popular as live-action films in 3-D — presumably because it costs so much to purchase 3-D tickets for an entire family — but animated titles like Shrek Forever After (60 percent), Toy Story 3 (60 percent), and The Lorax (52 percent) did prove that moms and dads were willing to shell out big bucks on the format. Not so much over the past year, though. Recent films like Brave (34 percent), The Croods (38 percent) and, obviously, Despicable Me 2 haven’t connected with 3-D ticket-buyers despite the fact that they succeeded at the box office.

Many think the 3-D gimmick has lost — or is losing — its novelty due to over-saturation and shoddy execution, and Avatar director James Cameron agrees. “I do not think Hollywood is using the 3-D properly,” Cameron remarked at the TagDF conference in Mexico City last week. “Man of Steel, Iron Man 3 and all those movies should not necessarily be in 3-D,” he continued. “If you spend $150 million on visual effects, the film is already going to be spectacular, perfect.”

What do you think? Is the 3-D fad officially ending?


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