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David Poland

By David Poland

Pirates & 3D

According to Len Klady’s Sunday reporting, 66% of Pirates 4 screens were 3D screens and Disney told him that just 48% of the box office gross came from those screens.

Let’s consider what those numbers mean…

Figuring a very rough average ticket of $9 for non-3D and $12 for a 3D ticket, they sold 3.6 million 3D tickets and 5.2 million non-3D tickets. This flips how the distribution was set up regarding 3D… 59% of sales were non-3D and just 41% were 3D.

Not only is this a clear rejection of 3D on a major movie, but given how distribution is currently designed, it makes you wonder whether Disney cost themselves a lot of gross by putting their film on too high a percentage of 3D screens.

The principle is that on opening weekend of a mega-movie, you want potential ticket buyers to be able to get into the movie in that first weekend. So you may have a screening starting every 30 minutes in some megaplexes on those opening weekends.

So let’s say you went to a megaplex with 5 Pirates screens and had decided to go to the 2D version – for whatever reason – you only had one play time available every 2 hours or so while 3D ticket buyers had one an hour. If 2D showings were more available last weekend, would it have increased the gross substantially?

Could 3D as a tool to increase the average ticket price collapse under the weight of audiences unwilling to kick in an extra $3 a ticket when given a choice?

We have a lot more 3D product to look at as the summer progresses. I don’t believe in broad slaps against 3D, like comparing one non-3D movie’s opening to a 3D opening. That’s just a way to gloat. It doesn’t have any real weight. But if Cars 2 and Harry Potter find that there is a high percentage of ticket buyers seeking out 2D screens, we will find ourselves at a tipping point. Realistically, exhibitors will have to start backing away from 3D, as it will be apparent that it is costing them money, as they are the only part of the movie chain that really cares about the number of ticket buyers… as mass numbers of ticket buyers are the model to anticipate concession sales.

After that, there is a very serious conversation to be had about whether it is the quality of 3D or the higher price point driving the issue.


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21 Responses to “Pirates & 3D”

  1. Matt Bacon says:

    If you’re going to write an article using math, at least do your math correctly. If you did, you would find that the amount of 2D tickets sold would be 5.2 million, and the amount of 3D tickets sold to be 3.6 million. The ratio is not 70% to 30%, but 59% to 41%…

    Also, at every theater I have seen, there are more 2D times than 3D times…

  2. David Poland says:

    Ah, math…. somehow added sales up to $101.2m instead of $91.2m. D’oh! Thanks.

    As for you experience, obviously Disney’s stat doesn’t match your observation. But I do wonder whether the tide has already turned on this. After all, de-3Ding screens in a multiplex is not had for the exhibitor to do. Tomorrow, I will investigate whether Pirates suffered a shift of 3D to non-3D screens starting Monday or earlier.

    I do see that Thor, for instance, is running equal 3D and 2D shows in some theaters after 3 weekends… and Pirates in the same theaters is running more 2D now.

    In one theater in LA, Thor is running ONLY in 3D, but Pirates, even with an IMAX screen, is running fewer 3D shows than 2D.


  3. Foamy Squirrel says:

    I’m dubious of the proposition “Pirates would have made more money as 2D-only”. They’d have to sell ~13.5% more tickets to simply gross the same amount as the 2D/3D mix, and I have trouble believing a proportion greater than 10% said, “I dislike/can’t afford 3D so much I’m not even going to bother seeing the 2D version either”. And I’m seriously doubting that sessions were so sold out more than 5% couldn’t get tickets for a 2D screening.

  4. if 2D, with 33% of the showings, gets 60% of the audience, it means each 2D showing had three times as many people as each 3D showing (on average)


  5. SC says:

    I think audiences have been burned by

    1) shitty 3D conversions
    2) massive 3D surcharges
    3) very dim projection for 3D movies

    and whenever I go to the theater, I see people buying tickets to a 2D film and then sneaking into a 3D film with the glasses they kept from another movie.

    3 out of 4 of these problems could be fixed by theater owners, if they weren’t so fixated on short-term profit. But I don’t think the studios will give up the shitty conversions.

  6. workedOnpirates says:

    There have been some good points made so far. let me add another factor on P4 the 3D just wasn’t that good. I know that from seeing it as it was being shot. The DoP and director where not fans of 3D the had it forced on them from the money above. And so on set had treated it with some contempt and little toleration and made it difcult us 3D guys to do job properly meaning we often had to choose save 3D setting for alot of the shot making the 3D feel flat and sometimes misatched. The DoP did not what it to do well and was I’m his intrest to make that so, so he could prove a point. What’s sad now hes gone to work on the new aliens film much of the same attitude. So I’m not surprised that this film has low numbers for 3D.

    I worked on other films this and last year that are on the similar scale where I know love and careful attention has gone in to the 3D side to make sure it works well.

    Audiences are not stupid they can tell when it been a bit slap dash 3D. But there is a mixture of good 3D and bad 3D and you have to factor that in to how well it dose from film to film.

  7. sanj says:

    so the difference between a 2d vs 3d is like 3 bucks so why don’t theatres just give away a small popcorn / pop for every 3d movie people go to.

    how much money can avatar 2 3d make ? 100 million ? 500 million ? will it take avatar again to make 3d worthy
    of going to the theatre …for average going movie people.

  8. Don N. says:

    You are forgetting another reason not to see 3D movies. Some people can’t watch them without getting queasy. My wife is on of them. That means unless I want to go alone (plus kids 11 and 13) that we are seeing the 2D version of the movie.

  9. Steve says:

    I think people are tiring of the notion that “every” action film needs to be in 3D. When 3D is done subtly one comes away with the notion that it added little to the experience and certainly not enough to justify the surcharge, dim picture, or uncomfortable glasses. And when 3D is done in gimmicky ways, with things thrown out at the audience, it’s fun but obviously that stuff doesn’t belong in most films.

    I would rather get pulled into a movie via a great story, great cinematography, and a crisp, bright, high resolution image on a giant screen that I cannot duplicate at home with Blu-ray. As to that last part, 3D does not even come close and in fact is just the opposite. True IMAX does this. (Too bad IMAX Corp. is phasing it out!) So did standard theatrical 70mm projection on movies like “Patton” or “2001: A Space Odyssey.” Since Hollywood has decided that the future must be digital it should use that sort of high quality presentation as its goal, not 3D which so many people seem to hate.

  10. Jim says:

    With the logic most of this industry operates with, I’m sure the next development in this scenario will be to just cut out the 2D option altogether (which will just drive more people away).

  11. Matthew says:

    Speaking as a fan (not in the industry) I think there’s another big factor here – a lot of people just aren’t excited about this movie. I’m a big Pirates fan and I’m not even going to bother to see this one in the theater. Same for many of my friends. So I’m guessing there’s a large percentage of people who are willing to pay $9 but not $12. Other big movies with better buzz won’t have the same issue, and 3D will generally sell a higher percentage because more people will think the extra 3 bucks is worth it.

  12. jesse says:

    I think the Pirates 3-D insistence also miscalculated why people go to these movies. There’s some degree of interest in the spectacle, effects, and swashbuckling, but the main draw for these movies is Depp… and what need is there to see Johnny Depp in 3-D? It does nothing for performances or characters, and that’s basically why people see these Pirates movies. I can see 3-D doing fine with Transformers, because if you’re just looking for a big sensory experience, there’s less of a drawback — except the crazy prices, of course.

    I saw Pirates in 3-D only because my favorite theater in NYC, the Ziegfeld, shows in 3-D whenever possible. Though the movie was mostly shot in 3-D, the effect, like almost any live-action movie that isn’t set in flight or space or a semi-cartoon environment, didn’t really enhance the visuals, and in many cases worsened them, because a lot of scenes are already dark or torch-lit or moody, which in 3-D just becomes murkier than it should be. I went to a press screening of Kung Fu Panda 2 the same morning, and the 3-D looked great, some of the best I’ve seen. That said, I don’t think I would’ve missed out seeing the 2-D version, and I have no plans to see another 3-D movie until maybe Harry Potter at the Ziegfeld, and again more because of the Ziegfeld than the 3-D.

    I know a lot of people (around here, not really in general) hate Burton’s Alice in Wonderland and it’s even been lumped in as a bad post-conversion, but really, the 3-D in that movie looked fine — neat, even, since most of the environments were animated anyway. I can see 3-D living on as an added-value option for animated or semi-animated movies, but it’s just kind of numbing as part of a live-action movie after awhile — even when it’s done well. I went to see the 3-D version of Resident Evil 4 for the exploitation-flavored novelty, ditto Drive Angry, and while they looked fine, even that novelty worse off after 40 minutes or so.

  13. cadavra says:

    Well, there’s one easy way to at least partially solve this problem. One studio and the theatre chains need to try one 3-D movie with no upcharge. If the percentage improves, that may be the answer–lower or eliminate the upcharge. If the percentage is still low, then it likely must be the image.

  14. arisp says:

    For me, the fact that the image loses God-knows how many f-stops is a deal breaker. That’s what hurts my eyes more than anything else. I enjoyed Avatar the 2nd time I saw it in 2D more than in 3D for that reason alone. These theatres need to COMPENSATE for it and brighten their freaking bulbs.

  15. Chris says:

    Can’t remember where I read it (I’m thinking maybe on Ebert’s blog), but the 3D glasses result in a loss of one full f-stop. So there you go.

  16. David Poland says:

    Roger keeps beating this drum, but filmmakers are aware of the issue with the glasses and the projection is supposed to be adjusted to it… and Cameron has been pretty emphatic that this should not be an issue if projection is properly done.

    Of course, exhibitors have been using, for lack of a better term, underpowered bulbs forever in all kinds of projection. 35mm was no better in this regard than digital. Doing it right is doing it right and doing it wrong is doing it wrong.

    My only problem with Roger on this is that he makes it sound like a problem with the delivery medium and not just cheap exhibitors.

  17. palmtree says:

    After people have been burned, I can’t see them wanting more 3D unless the 3D itself is an event…meaning the marketing and press and fan base all tout the use of 3D as being the point of the movie. Hell, throw it into the title. Jackass 3D. Step Up 3D. etc. At least people who want to see them will know that it should be viewed in 3D.

    Right now marketing seems to bury the 3D sheepishly adding it onto the trailer at the end, tipping their hand that “this movie was not made for 3D.” And then they expect people to pay a premium for it?

  18. a-mad says:

    One thing not being brought up in this discussion is international – which is still doing very well with 3-D, as overseas audiences have not been tiring of the format.

    Certainly studios are taking this into account as they approach the 3-D vs. non-3-D argument. Pirates:OST will most likely end up grossing within $100M worldwide of Pirates:AWE… which is not bad at all for a 4th film in a series (esp. with an estimated $900M worldwide)… and I doubt the international numbers would have been as gangbusters this past week without 3-D.

  19. LexG says:

    It’s all about SHARK NIGHT 3D.

    That’ll be the next thing I see in 3D.

  20. David Poland says:

    a-mad… as far as I know, there is a significantly lower percentage of 3D-ready screens overseas. No?

    AND trends seem to hit international 6 months to a year after US theatrical.

    None of this is about Pirates being a flop. They will be fine financially. But this 3D thing is curious.

  21. Shin Gallon says:

    It’s totally the image for me, and the fact that watching a movie in 3D will result in me having a splitting headache by the end of the movie. But even if it didn’t, I’d still find 3D to be an annoying, distracting gimmick and would refuse to see movies that way regardless.

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