The release of Avatar in December 2009 paved the way for an explosion of 3D movies. There was much hype surrounding the release of this movie, with director James Cameron being famous for pushing boundaries in film making technology leading to the 3D version being hotly anticipated. In its opening weekend, 70% of Avatar’s gross came from 3D viewing, leading to numerous successful 3D releases in 2010 including Toy Story 3 and Alice in Wonderland.
Despite a rise in the release of 3D movies following Avatar, demand quickly began to fizzle out, with consumers increasingly becoming unwilling to pay the hike in prices for 3D movies (up to 25% more than 2D movies) and many being uninterested in watching films in 3D. Effectively the movies were no longer living up to the hype. With 3D movies hitting a peak in 2010, when 21% of the North American box office came from 3D ticket sales, this share had fallen to 14% in 2016 with 3D box office revenue pulling in $1.6bn, a decline of 8% on the previous year. This is despite a rise in the number of movies released in 3D.
At the end of July 2017, on the back of disappointing earnings results, IMAX Corporation announced that it would be scaling back on 3D movie showings in North America in favor of 2D films. For a company that has become synonymous with the 3D movie experience, this signals a clear message about the changes that have occurred in this market. The demand just isn’t there anymore, particularly in North America.
While much has been made of the death of 3D movies, it is actually unlikely that this form of movie consumption will disappear completely. Rather what will happen is that this will become a niche reserved for certain films where it offers a benefit to the viewing experience.