As 3D theaters proliferate the number of 2D showings is rapidly shrinking. Last week when I decided to catch Despicable Me at one of the four movie theaters in my town showing it, I found that 2D viewings weren’t even an option. Instead I was forced into a poorly projected 3D showing, which I left with a blinding headache, and an abiding hatred of all things Gru.
A few weeks ago this chart created by The Wrap suggested there might be hope. It illustrated a distinct decline in the percentage of 3D tickets being sold. We should have known this was too good to be true. The Wrap’s chart was based on admittedly incomplete data, movies like Clash of the Titans weren’t included at all. Now Slate has put together a more complete picture and it’s not all good news for anyone who, like me, wanted to watch Despicable Me without being forced to get a headache.
Here’s what Slate found:
So while it’s true there was a steady decline in the percentage of 3D tickets sold actually starting with A Christmas Carol in 2009, carrying on through Avatar and ending with a sharp drop around Despicable Me, following Despicable Me there’s been a huge, huge upswell in 3D ticket sales with increasing numbers of audience members buying exclusively 3D tickets for tremendously terrible movies like Cats & Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore and Step Up 3D. This past weekend Piranha 3D was the real topper, recording the highest percentage of 3D tickets sold for a movie in the past year with more than 95% of all its ticket sales being 3D.
This may not be quite as bad as it seems. In the case of Step Up and Piranha these are movies which were designed specifically to be seen in 3D. The overall decline that preceded them revolved around movies which just didn’t need to be seen in 3D as audiences slowly caught on to the notion that Toy Story 3 is probably just as good whether or not you wear glasses. And since you won’t get a headache maybe even better.
You have to think that a large part of the percentage increase is caused by people encountering the same problem I encountered: You just can’t find 2D showings anymore. Theater owners are eager to tack on those 3D surcharges and they’re eliminated 2D showings. Odds are you couldn’t have seen Piranha 3D in 2D even if you wanted to. It’s not like ticket buyers had any say in the matter. It’s not as if people are actually choosing 3D, they’re being forced into it. How much eyestrain will it take until they simply give up, and stay home with a DVD? I know the next time I want to see a Despicable Me, I’ll probably wait for Netflix and save myself five bucks and an Advil.
But Slate has dug even deeper and if you head over there you’ll see in-depth charts analyzing the relative profitability of 3D to 2D. Short version: 3D is becoming less profitable. In fact Toy Story 3 made on average $1000 more per 2D screen than it did per 3D screen. A stunning figure when you consider that most theaters charge as much as $5 extra for 3D showings. That sounds nice if you're in the anti-3D crowd, but even though 2D is more profitable, 3D is still making a lot of money. A lot of money. So much so that they’re probably just going to keep shoving more of it down your throats. So much so that I still won’t be able to see Despicable Me without getting a headache, any time soon. Something about that just isn’t right.