“Avatar” came back into movie theaters during the recent blockbuster drought. One of the available formats was IMAX 3D. That was both a surprise and not a surprise. A surprise because I can’t remember the last 3D movie I ever saw. Not a surprise because “Avatar” ushered in modern 3D in 2009.
When “Wakanda Forever” came out last week, several showings were in IMAX 3D and Real 3D. That was a surprise and I saw the movie in IMAX 3D.
The trailer for “Avatar: The Way of The Water” was in 3D. Not a surprise since that “Avatar 2” would also be in 3D.
The trailer for “Antman & The Wasp: Quantumania” was in 3D. That was a surprise and it got me thinking.
Are 3D movies making a comeback?
3D Movies in 2009
“Avatar” replaced the blue-and-red glasses with polarized glasses for viewing 3D movies in 2009. The new technology created a more immersive environment while watching the movie.
The success of “Avatar” prompted the surge of 3D movies, 3D Blu-Rays, and 3D HDTVs. According to Wikipedia, which cannot be wrong, the peak for 3D was 81 movies in 2013. That tapered off to a dozen movies in 2022
Why did 3D fail in the marketplace? 3D became a money grab.
- Theaters jacked up the ticket price for 3D movies.
- Studios jacked up the price for 3D Blu-Rays.
- Manufacturers jacked up the price for 3D HDTVs.
Consumers didn’t like that and voted with their wallets.
3D Ticket Prices
Movie theaters used to have three different ticket prices: children, general, and seniors. With the popularity of IMAX and other big screen formats, theaters added a surcharge to regular prices. When 3D movies became popular, theaters added another surcharge on top of that.
Back then my friends and I would debate on seeing a movie in 3D because of ticket prices. For most movies, watching in 3D wasn’t worth the extra cost.
A way around higher ticket prices today is to join a subscription program. As a member of the AMC Stubs A-List program, I pay $25 per month to see three movies per week in any format at no extra charge. I typically see 48 movies during a non-pandemic year for an average cost of $6.25 US per movie.
On that note, I’m obligated to make this disclaimer. I own shares of AMC stock and I’m a member of the AMC Investor Connect program. AMC offered no compensation or editorial guidance for this blog post.
3D Blu-Ray Prices
The perfect example of studios jacking up prices on 3D Blu-Rays was Ridley Scott’s “Prometheus” in 2012. The regular Blu-Ray came out with minimal bonus features. The 3D Blu-Ray came out with all bonus features for twice the price.
I didn’t bother buying “Prometheus” on Blu-Ray. I waited until Apple iTunes had the digital version for five bucks. Which had all the bonus features from the 3D Blu-Ray.
I stopped buying Blu-Rays after “Prometheus” came out.
3D HDTV Prices
What killed off 3D movies in the home wasn’t the higher prices of 3D HDTVs but also the 3D glasses.
The passive glasses that you get at the movie theaters are cheap. For best viewing experience, you need active glasses with built-in electronics. Those cost between $200 to $300 US back then.
You can get cheap active glasses for 3D projectors for as low as $40 US today. If you’re willing to spend $1,300 to $5,000 US on a 3D projector. And another $200 to $1,000 US on a 3D projection screen.
If 3D HDTVs and glasses were more affordable at the peak of 3D movies in 2013, 3D might have gone mainstream.
3D in 2022
With Disney pushing 3D for “Avatar” and Marvel movies, theaters are showing 3D movies again.
A friend at an independent movie theater in the San Francisco Bay Area told me an interesting story.
The owners wanted to get “Avatar” but the distributor told them no. Disney required one showing to be in 3D and the theater wasn’t equipped for 3D.
The theater converted one screen for 3D to show “Avatar: The Way of The Water” in December.
The owners later found out that the distributor was wrong. Disney had no 3D requirement for showing “Avatar” movies. The owners are skeptical that they can recoup the conversion cost from showing 3D movies.