It wasn't so long ago that Hollywood seemed to be on the brink of a 3D revolution. Avatar raked in a whopping 80 percent of its record-breaking box office gross through 3D showings, sparking a trend that led to 40 planned 3D releases in 2011. But then, increasingly, audience members began turning their noses up at 3D glasses. They complained of 3D's less sharp picture quality, shaky effects that cause headaches and nausea, and skyrocketing ticket prices. Indeed, this summer's first four major 3D releases— Pirates of the Caribbean, Kung Fu Panda 2, Green Lantern, and Cars 2 — all failed to earn at least half of their gross through 3D ticket sales. And then, this weekend, the new Transformers' record-breaking opening (it raked in $181 million domestically since opening last Tuesday) boasted 60 percent of its gross from 3D. Reviewers called Michael Bay's use of 3D "incredible." Has Transformers 3 breathed new life into 3D filmmaking?
Transformers is the exception. Audiences are sick of 3D: Bay's film proved that 3D can be "fabulous," says Betsy Sharkey at The Los Angeles Times. But his "visually immersive and explosive" film begged for the 3D treatment; too often, however, there's no reason for the technology. The decision to go 3D is an increasingly commercial one, resulting in films like Thor — "which looks neither better nor worse with 3D" — or Pirates of the Caribbean, which became "dark and claustrophobic" in 3D. As Hitchcock's Vertigo or 2007's Paranormal Activity shows us, the audience's imagination is the number one filmmaking tool. "No glasses required."
"3D in the movies: Getting in too deep"
And Transformers wasn't even a real success: Transformers: Dark of the Moon may have had the best opening weekend of 2011, but it still pales in comparison to Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen's gross in 2009, says Hollie McKay at Fox News. And that second Transformers installment in 2009 didn't have 3D ticket prices to boost its total. Recent 3D films are "failing to live up to the "premium quality" marketing promise," and astute, budget-conscious moviegoers are taking notice. Just as the 3D movement failed in the '50s after the tool became "a gimmick," Hollywood is running the same risk now. The "3D honeymoon" is over.
"Are 3D movies dying a slow death?"
Hold on, there's still "healthy demand" for 3D: Filmmakers are "breathing a little easier today," says Josh Rottenberg at Entertainment Weekly. Transformers 3's 3D ticket gross signals that, at least for the right film, audiences are willing to "spring for" those plastic glasses. But it's also clear that moviegoers are "being pickier" about what they'll see in 3D. The key, it seems, is for Hollywood to be more judicious in its use of 3D.
"Transformers 3 gives a much-needed boost to 3D. But will it last?"
Editor's Note: This article originally misstated Transformers 3's opening weekend gross. It has since been revised. We regret the error.