Forbes: 3-D’s Not-So-Breakout Year

September 30, 2009 – 2:12 pm

Forbes sees too many films plus lack of 3D screens as producing less than stellar results in the box office:

Nine months into the year it hasn’t quite lived up to the hype, though it’s far from a bust. So far, 11 3-D films have been released, earning $1.2 billion at the domestic box office. Between January’s My Bloody Valentine and September’s Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, the top 3-D release climbed from just 1,033 screens to 2,600.

The biggest box office success for 3-D was Disney ( DIS – news – people )-Pixar’s Up, which cost $200 million and grossed more than $292 million in U.S. theaters, including $100 million from 2,600 3-D screens. DreamWorks’ Monsters vs. Aliens was released on 2,080 3-D screens in April (less than the 5,000 for which DreamWorks CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg had hoped). The film grossed $198 million domestically, about half of that from 3-D screens. It also pulled in $5.2 million at 143 large-screen Imax theater box offices, meaning about 2% of the total screens produced 9% of the film’s total returns.

Big, but not as big as Hollywood hoped. The problem: Not all 3-D films are getting the chance to reap 3-D rewards, limiting the studios’ profit potential. There are still too many movies for so few screens. In July, Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs was crowded out of 3-D screens by G Force, released three weeks later. In the first weeks, the movie grossed about half of its returns on the 1,600 screens–about a quarter of the total screens–that were showing it in 3-D. When the 3-D screen count fell to 600, its gross fell by more than half. It never reached a single Imax screen.

Blame the slow pace of digital technology integration and 3-D projection capability. In 2007, Screen Digest anticipated 5,000 3-D screens in operation by 2009. Thanks to the contraction of the credit market, a little over half of that goal was reached. Now Hollywood hope theater owners will have 7,500 screens by April 2010, when Pixar’s fourth Shrek [sic] installment debuts. Katzenberg expects 70% of the film’s box office will come from 3-D.

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