3D Slammed Anew After Format’s Weak ‘Pirates 4’ Opening

With non-IMAX 3D runs accounting for only 38 percent of “Pirates'” $90.1M opening, critics including analyst Richard Greenfield are renewing claims that the format is hurting the movie business

Last Updated: May 23, 2011 @ 7:51 PM

With non-IMAX 3D-runs of Disney's "Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides" accounting for only 38 percent of the film's opening domestic gross, 3D critics are renewing claims made last year that the format is hurting the movie business.

On Monday, BTIG Research analyst Richard Greenfield released yet another report that shows declining uptake of 3D among moviegoers.

Despite accounting for 46 percent of "Pirates 4's" nearly 8,100 North American screens, and charging premium ticket rates, non-IMAX 3D runs of the movie accounted for only 38 percent of the film's $90.1 million in estimated opening box office.

Also read: 3D at the Box Office: Down, Down, Down

For "Thor," Greenfield also noted, opening non-IMAX 3D revenue accounted for 50 percent of the film's $66 million opening domestic gross, despite the fact that non-IMAX 3D screens accounted for 48 percent of the film's market infiltration. With 3D tickets costing significantly more than 2D, an allotment of nearly half of all screens for 3D should yield a percentage of overall revenue that's well over half.

Of course, this isn't the first time Greenfield has taken 3D to task, having released a series of reports last year. 

Comparatively, those were halcyon days for the format, with 3D accounting for 57 percent of "How to Train Your Dragon's" March 2010 opening and 54 percent of "Shrek 4's" May 2010 premiere.

Back then, studio and exhibition executives defended the format, noting that the number of 3D-equipped locations had to be increased before such damning statistical analysis could be considered relevant.

A year later, with 3D screens accounting for half the typical release's engagement, that "count the screens" argument doesn't hold as much water.

For his part, Greenfield believes the price sensitivity among moviegoers towards 3D was at least partly to blame for the fact that "Pirates 4" missed its studio's domestic box office goal of an opening of at least $100 million.

"In rural America — such as at Regal's Trussville 16 in Birmingham, Ala. — a "child's" 3D ticket for an afternoon presentation this Friday will cost $11.00 vs. $7.50 for 2D. That's a 46 percent premium."

Of course, Greenfield's analysis doesn't hold up in regard to "On Stranger Tides's" stellar foreign opening — at $256.3 million, it was the best international start ever.

Also read: 'Pirates 4' Plunders Biggest Int'l Opening Ever at $256.3M

Meanwhile, appearing on Fox Business, even IMAX CEO Richard Gelfond isn't so sure of the format anymore, noting, "All things being equal, I would rather show a 2D movie, because on the scale of the IMAX screen, it is really differentiated.