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As Moviegoers Cool on 3-D, Next Breakout Could Be Tron: Legacy

As Moviegoers Cool on 3-D, Next Breakout Could Be Tron: Legacy

Thompson on Hollywood

It’s amazing how far the 3-D clock has turned in a short time. In classic Hollywood fashion, the industry seems to have cooked its own 3-D goose in just a few years. After talking theater owners across America into building some 5000 digital cinemas equipped with 3-D projectors, the studios have jumped eagerly onto the 3-D bandwagon, throwing one movie after the other into shoddy quickie retrofit post-production. While high-quality early efforts such as Avatar ($3 billion worldwide) and Alice in Wonderland ($116 million opening weekend) pulled in huge percentages of 3-D patrons, audiences swiftly got pickier about what they were going to pay for after getting burned on such B-efforts as Clash of the Titans and The Last Airbender. If you track opening weekend grosses on 3-D vs. 2-D, there’s a precipitous drop from December 2009 to August 2010.

Sneak peak at Tron: Legacy is below.

When 3-D was still exotic and new and the quality of the films was high–Avatar became the biggest blockbuster of all time on the thrust of premium ticket sales—studios green-lit a rash of 3-D movies. When these films were on just a few screens, audiences rushed to see them. But clearly, some filmgoers got burnt by schlocky product and will decide what’s worth paying extra dollars. James Cameron has stated his concern that badly executed 3-D, which he calls 2.5-D, could destroy all the industry’s hard work building excitement for quality 3-D.
The numbers indicate two trends: early on there were fewer theaters and 3-D screenings were less frequent and more exotic. Later on moviegoers got used to 3-D, there were more bad films and more 3-D screens. Oddly, movies with 3-D in the title seemed to buck the downward trend, implying that it was the only way to see a movie like Piranha 3-D.
The more digital a movie is, the better and more immersive is the 3-D: Pixar’s Toy Story 3 and How to Train Your Dragon look great. But while the bloom is off the 3-D rose, there’s evidence that given good reason to spend their cash, moviegoers will turn up when they perceive a real 3-D enhancement, especially the lure of entering a new digital universe like Pandora or Tron: Legacy‘s glowing blue game grid. The next 3-D breakout could be Disney’s FX-crammed Tron: Legacy, which like Avatar, takes viewers into a new world.

Check out this Tron: Legacy (December 17) sneak peak:


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You’re forgetting two things:

1) The 3-D surcharge is partly what is killing the concept. Exhibitors and studios got very greedy very fast — right in the middle of a horrifyingly bad economic recession that overpaid studio types just do NOT understand. It really makes a HUGE difference to a great many people if a movie costs $3 more. $3 is 1% of the weekly pay for many people on unemployment.

2) “Tron: Legacy” has been a major fanboy, Comic-Con-style success prior to release. You know, like “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World,” “Watchmen” and “Kick-Ass.” The first “Tron” in 1982 had HUGE hype and pre-release awareness, was a majorly anticipated title that led Disney to develop all sorts of preliminary plans for Disneyland, and then … fizzled. I don’t for a second think “Tron: Legacy” will be a disaster, but it’s sort of the anti-“Avatar,” presumed to be a giant hit before it opens. My guess is it will have a spectacular opening, fueled by the fanboys and by some curious younger audiences, then, like the first, kind of fizzle as people realize it’s just a gimmick, not really a satisfying story. I’d love, for Disney’s sake, to be wrong — because if this doesn’t work, Ross has greenlit NOTHING, and Disney’s entire strategy of mega-tentpoles could be seriously doomed.


I wouldn’t call Alice in Wonderland a high quality effort.

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