This Summer, 3-D Ticket Sales Disappoint
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MICHELE NORRIS, host: And I'm Michele Norris.
Today, a new version of Disney's "The Lion King" hits theaters. And this time, the circle of life is in 3D. With a new look comes a higher ticket price. The movie industry has been banking on 3D films and it saw this summer as the moment sales would take off.
But Sami Yenigun reports that 3D still hasn't lived up to its box office potential.
SAMI YENIGUN: In 2008, the head of DreamWorks, Jeffrey Katzenberg, looked into his crystal ball and told NPR that he saw that future of movies in 3D.
(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "THE POLAR EXPRESS)
TOM HANKS: (as The Conductor) This is the Polar Express.
JEFFREY KATZENBERG: And I walked out of the theater. I came in here the next day and I said, our lives are going to be forever changed because this is the future for us.
YENIGUN: Katzenberg said that 3D would be like when silent films became talkies, and black and whites became color. This revolution, he said, would save an industry that's seen its attendance drop 10 percent since 1999.
JEFF BOCK: Two thousand and eleven was supposed to be the summer of 3D and that just didn't turn out to be the case.
YENIGUN: Box office analyst Jeff Bock says that despite an all-time high in box office sales this summer, people were paying more money for fewer tickets. This is now the fourth summer in a row that attendance is dropped. And that paints a grim picture for Hollywood.
(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE)
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Can you believe it, us? I mean, it's the factory guys who usually get laid off. Not us, we're supposed to be safe.
YENIGUN: With movies like "Final Destination 5," "Conan the Barbarian," "Glee 3D" and "Spy Kids 4D," all coming out in August, Bock says that 3D movies haven't used what makes movies great in the first place - and that's good storytelling.
BOCK: We even went to a new dimension to try to sell more tickets and that just didn't work.
(SOUNDBITE OF A MOVIE, "SPY KIDS 4D")
UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: Don't make me punch your lights out.
BOCK: And it's turning into a gimmick like it was in the 1980s.
YENIGUN: The highest grossing film of all time, "Avatar," got everyone excited about 3D a couple of years ago.
(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "AVATAR")
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: If you wish to survive, you need to cultivate a strong mental attitude.
YENIGUN: But this summer's movies didn't bank the way "Avatar" did, says Robert Lenihan, director of programming for AMC movie theaters.
ROBERT LENIHAN: When you realize results, as we did with "Avatar" and "Alice in Wonderland," if you don't continue to hit those numbers out of the park, you know, you're a little disappointed that you hadn't done as well as you had before.
YENIGUN: The thing is, audiences have figured out that not only are a lot of the 3D movies bad, they're bad and expensive. At the AMC Loews Theater in Washington, D.C., it costs 11.50 to see "Contagion" showing in 2D, and 15.50 to see "Shark Night 3D."
Kenan Marks(ph), like everyone else outside this movie theater, is going to see "Contagion." I asked Marks if he ever went to see 3D movies.
KENAN MARKS: Yeah, I kind of avoid them though because they're usually like a lot more expensive than regular movies.
YENIGUN: Marks says that paying extra to see something in 3D is rarely worth it.
KENIN MARKS: Only if they're like made for 3D, like the "Avatar" movie. Otherwise they're just - it's another way to, like, make more money and it's not really worth it in the end. It kind of hurts your eyes, too.
YENIGUN: It's not all bad news for 3D. Internationally, 3D sales are doing much better than in North America and there's still hope for domestic sales. This winter, film masters Martin Scorsese and Steven Spielberg are making their 3D debuts with "Hugo" and "Tintin." Maybe these guys will make the price hike worth it for a family of four, though that extra 16 bucks might be better spent on popcorn.
For NPR News, I'm Sami Yenigun.
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