Is the Low 3D Turnout for Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides a Bad Sign for 3D Movies?

It’s no secret that Hollywood has bought into 3D in a big way after the massive success of Avatar, but ever since James Cameron’s movie took the world by storm in late 2009, it appears that the medium has been offering diminishing returns for studios. Last year we saw a handful of movies become box office behemoths thanks to inflated 3D ticket prices such as Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland, but over time most 3D blockbusters have been experiencing a significant drop in the number of 3D tickets being sold. The release of Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides in North America this past weekend marked one of the lowest percentages of 3D ticket sales thus far, with just 38% of the film’s $90 million opening coming from from non-IMAX 3D screens. Some industry analysts feel that audiences are shying away from the higher ticket prices, but is this really a solid indicator of what’s to come, or is it just a minor blip as 3D continues to take over the world?

It stands to reason that the newest Pirates of the Caribbean film should have easily surpassed the opening weekend gross of its predecessors, so the fact that it made about $25 million less than the previous installment in the U.S. is potentially cause for concern. According to Richard Greenfield of Wall Street’s BTIG, this is proof that audiences are “increasingly rejecting 3D movies” and choosing 2D instead when given the option. In his opinion, the movie would have actually made more money if they had shown it on more 2D screens. The high ticket prices and the annoyance of wearing glasses seem to be particularly problematic for families.

While I’m sure many people would love to believe that 3D is on its way out, I don’t think it’s entirely true. First of all, the movie still made $260 million overseas, where 3D screenings accounted for 66% of the total. Secondly, by Disney’s own admission they didn’t really push the 3D aspect of the movie in the marketing. Lastly, I think the novelty is simply wearing off and audiences are becoming a little more picky about what they will spend the extra money on. If a movie is billed as a visual extravaganza that was shot in 3D and takes full advantage of the format, then they will splurge. Did you choose to see Pirates 4 in 2D or 3D? Do you think 3D turnout will continue to drop, or is it totally dependent on the film?

  • djangoscud

    I watched in 3D and it was okay. There was nothing as spectacular as Coraline or engrossing as Cave of Forgotten Dreams though. I think there was just such a run of horrible shit after Avatar that 3D has become synonymous with same old shit but costs more. In some cases a 3D iteration was actually worse. The post Avatar smoke has subsided and all I can remember is a vague script re telling the story of Fern Gully and a strong urge to play Panzer Dragoon.

  • I hope Marvel decides to pull the 3D from Cap, I think it actually will hurt it.

  • swarez

    Didn’t you ask the same question when the last big 3D film under performed? And I don’t think taking in over 90 million dollars over the weekend is underperformance.

  • I think there may have been a similar discussion when Tron: Legacy came out because it also performed below expectations somewhat. But just like Pirates it ended up making a shit ton of money internationally, and unlike Pirates, a high percentage of its money came from 3D screenings.

  • Eleanor

    I think you’re right Sean-the novelty has worn off.
    I saw Avatar and Coraline in 3D(and thought it was great), but then saw Toy Story 3 in 3D, and didn’t feel like it had been worth the extra money, despite loving the film.
    I’m now way more careful about what I’ll spend the extra cash on. It doesn’t help that loads of crappy films have come along, using the 3D element as their major advertising tool.
    I saw Pirates in 2D, and thought the experience was fine. One of the main reasons I wanted to see it in the cinema was for the great scenery the films tend to feature. Luckily, my local cinemas (in the UK) have an equal number of 2D and 3D screenings, so you really do get to choose.

  • Lars Von Tired

    Hopefully this shit is on the downslide.

    I like going to the movies because of the movies not because of gimmicks.

  • Pirates hit on the low-side of projections in the Us but it hit projections. Internationally, it crushed.

    One of the big reasons why 3D takes were down in the US is the market was flooded with screens for Pirates (2D and 3D) because everyone and their brother knew Pirates was a one-weekend movie and they wanted to maximize screens so they could get as much of the audience in during the first weekend before everyone found out how bad the film was. This increase in 2D screens causes an expected increase in the percentage take of 2D screens, because they are more readily available for people who are just walking up and buying tickets at the BO without knowing when a movie plays or not (and when you open with $90 million a lot of people are just simply deciding on a whim to walk up to the BO and buy tickets to whatever show starts next).

    Also, no one projected this Pirates to beat the openings of previous installments. In fact, it was considered foolish to do so. Primarily because its tracking was far off from the last few films in the franchise, due to the last two films being considered substandard product and the general consensus their would be some buyers remorse from the last film that would affect this film.

  • Niklas

    I personally choose 2D over 3D every time because of the higher ticket price. I don’t think me using glasses which I give back at the end of the show is worth $4 extra dollars.

  • Kasper

    I dislike in most things. I liked it somewhat in Tron, but that’s it. I really hope it either goes away or gets reserved for only a very few projects a year where it fits.

  • kyri

    in the “international market” the 2d option is not an option..

    you can only see the latest “blockbusters” in 3D

    I personally stopped going to the movies because of that..

  • I agree with Matt about the diminished expectations thing. 3D or not, people seemed kind of tired the franchise, as you can see there was a bit of a drop between part 2 and 3 in the money that was made (at least here), and from what I understand, part 3 left sort of a bad taste in people’s mouths. It makes perfect sense that if you were checking out the latest installment of a franchise that you were tired of a few years ago or not looking forward to all THAT much that you would choose the cheaper alternative, particularly since this wasn’t a franchise that was built around the 3D gimmick to begin with. I hate hate HATE when there’s a sequel or reboot coming out where it seems the only selling point is “Well, the other ones weren’t in 3D, but this one is! Story? What?”.

    That said, I DO think that “Fast Five” would have been a fun 3D film, and it’s aimed at exactly the type of audience that buy into it, and it wouldn’t have reeked of desperation, having followed what was a pretty well-liked return to the series.

  • Big Eden

    No one seems to be mentioning that that last film (Pirates 3) was such an over-stuffed, turgid mess that when it was over, most people said “That’s enough Pirates for me!” The 3D gimmick can be a lot of fun when properly applied . . . but yeah, people are more selective about spending their $ when there’s a glut of sub-standard movies out there with a higher ticket price. Bring the price back down to equal what other 2D movies are asking and I’m sure you’ll see the popularity of the 3D movies take off into the stratosphere. The public is wise to the movie studios/theaters gauging them . . . and they’re staying away in droves.

  • Dave

    Hopefully Hollywood will overcome this delusion soon. 3D is a gimmick that has been attempted in almost every decade since the 50s. It’s not the next best thing. Glad Chris Nolan realizes this and is focusing on IMAX stuff for The Dark Knight Rises instead of 3D.