3D Films: A Theater’s Fashion Trend

3D – Some people like it, some people don’t; but personal preferences aside, we should see if 3D is here to stay.

3D, abbreviated for three-dimensional, films are made to enhance the illusion of depth perception. 3D films have existed since 1915, largely regulated to a small niche in the motion picture industry because of costly hardware and exhibition requirements. Nonetheless, 3D films were prominently featured in the 1950s in American cinema and later experienced a worldwide resurgence in the 1980s and 1990s driven by IMAX high-end theaters and Disney themed-venues. 3D films became more and more successful throughout the 2000s, culminating in the first-time success of 3D presentations of Avatar in December 2009 and January 2010.

The Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) analyses the box office sales at the end of each year. In it’s published reports, data shows the international results of 3D sales and screens. The following data was retrieved from the MPAA Theatrical Market Statistics reports from 2011 and 2012 (source links below).

Today, we often have the choice of seeing a film in 3D (including IMAX) or just the plain ol’ regular way. These options became worthy of distinction in 2006, when the box office began to measure the percentage of 3D movie tickets sold to overall ticket sales.

As previously mentioned, it wasn’t until the release of Avatar in 2009 that 3D sharply grew in popularity. From 2008 to 2009, this was a 450% growth that continued as a trend into 2010 by 100% growth. I mention this as a trend though, because you’ll see a steady decline in 3D box office ticket buys from 2010 to 2012.

The following graphs offer a global view to 3D theatrical representation. Rather that offering sales, the graphs from MPAA show the number of screens showing 3D by region. Whereas 3D ticket sales began to decrease after 2010, this data for 2011 and 2012 have an opposite conclusion; the number of 3D theaters is increasing.

By reviewing the charts below, it’s given that all regions share consistent growth. However, by comparing the percentage of growth per region by year, declining (but positive) growth shows characteristics of 3D as a trend.

This observation shows specific characteristics to this trend per region: The U.S./Canada region is ahead of the game in “maxing out” the trend. Remember that the percentages above show growth. Therefore, as these percentages reach 0%, it is assumed that a new cinema screen projection method has entered the picture and 3D screen representation will begin to decrease (similar to the pattern we see in these chart below with analog being replaced by digital projection in U.S. screens). For the EMEA (Europe, Middle East, and Africa, for those who were wondering) and Latin America, growth is slowing down while the Asia Pacific is still digging the 3D

So what is to become of 3D? While the number of 3D theaters is decreasing in growth, I believe this is a market reaction of supply and demand to decreasing 3D ticket sales. While studios continue to produce films for 3D exhibition, and annoyingly remaking old films (like Titanic) for the trend, I believe that the public exploits their right to choose whether or not to see a film in 3D. Avatar’s stake in 3D’s growth is due in part to the film’s distinctive visual excellence. While horror movies might get a kick out of sending fish flying to your face (Piranha 3D), audiences want to see films in 3D like Avatar that have purpose to the medium. Furthermore, the trend may be decreasing because of the price to view a 3D film. When the same film shows in “2D” (analog or digital) it leaves audiences with the question of “Is it worth it?” I don’t blame them. Other’s even hold the excuse that by wearing the 3D glasses in theaters, it distracts them, dims the picture, or makes them nauseous. But many audiences still enjoy the effect of 3D films, which is why it continues to grow internationally. Accurate market trends are often measured over the span of at least 5 years, so there is still much to learn of the pattern started in this article; but with the speed of change in the film industry, this pattern is to predict the end of those pesky 3D glasses.

MPAA Theatrical Market Statistics reports:

While the trend dies in theaters, why do you think 3D is declining in popularity?

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