On the eve of this year’s Cinema Expo (June 22-25), Jack Warner looks at whether the figures are beginning to add up for 3D exhibition following a first quarter of rapid growth in the number of 3D screens and 3D films released.

Monsters vs Aliens

This time last year, at the annual Cinema Expo conference in Amsterdam, the conversation was dominated by 3D exhibition and whether it could be made to pay. This year, the industry can start to draw some conclusions.
As the first wave of 3D features to be released in 2009 complete their theatrical runs, the early indications are that the format is living up to its promise. And with Disney/Pixar’s Up opening on a record 1,530 3D screens in North America, the market is moving towards the point at which there will be enough screens to support wide releases that are entirely 3D.

Average 3D ticket prices


US 2D: $10


UK 2D: $13.50


Italy 2D: $9.75

In the majority of markets for a film released in both the 2D and 3D formats, including North America, 3D screens are generating a bigger percentage of the release’s total gross from a smaller percentage of total screens. In the UK, 3D screens playing Paramount Pictures International’s Monsters Vs Aliens (the biggest 3D release to date worldwide) accounted for $15.1m, nearly half of the film’s total gross in the market, while playing on only 28% of the available screens. Italy provides an even stronger illustration, with 27% of the screens accounting for 56% of Monsters Vs Aliens’ total Italian gross.

But questions persist as to how much 3D growth is being driven by an expanding audience looking for a 3D experience — and how much is being driven by higher ticket prices. For Monsters Vs Aliens, the only release so far for which full figures are available, the 2D screen average was $40,500 during its run, while the 3D average was $102,000.

Paramount has no doubt 3D is a selling point that pulls in bigger audiences who are prepared to pay up to 50% more for a 3D experience. A comparison of the performance of 2D vs 3D screens for Monsters Vs Aliens in the UK suggests 3D boosted gross by 28.2%, from $23.8m to $30.5m.

“The 3D element of the Monsters Vs Aliens release was a very important component to the success of the film,” says Andrew Cripps, head of distributor Paramount Pictures International, on the film’s international release. “Only 18% of our [international] locations were in 3D yet they generated an astonishing 43% of our total box-office gross and the public clearly went out of their way to see the film in 3D.”

One of the best ways to measure 3D performance is to compare a 2D film with its 2D/3D sequel. The split release of Twentieth Century Fox’s Ice Age: Dawn Of The Dinosaurs day and date on July 1 in both 2D and 3D formats will provide the first opportunity to do this (the original Ice Age grossed $383.3m worldwide in 2002, and Ice Age:The Meltdown took $650m in 2006).

But the 3D format’s current performance can only quicken its roll-out to more screens in North America and international markets.

Number Of Digital 3D Screens

Western Europe01017538115192101260230733405
North America84206994151441125808693475078468

*Forecast growth. †Includes central and eastern Europe. Source: Screen Digest.

3D films: how the global figures add up

Monsters Vs. Aliens

3D gross
% scrs 3DTotal gross3D % of gross
N America*$112.828%$193.5m58%


 3D gross%scrs 3Dtotal gross3D% of gross
N America$45.6m-$114.1m40%

My Bloody Valentine 3D

 3D gross%scrs 3Dtotal gross3D% of gross
N America$6.3m45%$7m89%


 3D gross%scrs 3Dtotal gross3D% of gross
N America$6.7m39%$9m62%