Have 3D movies had their day?

Pirates of the Caribbean 4 hasn't set the world alight: are audiences fed up with 3D films?

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3D, or not 3D? That, apparently, is the question facing movie producers after the disappointing US box office performance of Pirates of the Caribbean: on Stranger Tides.

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Richard Greenfield of Wall Street analysts BTIG has opined that attendance “would have been higher” for Pirates if its distributors had made the 2D version of the film available to more theatres. According to Greenfield’s report, Pirates made only 38% of its money from non-IMAX 3D cinemas on its opening weekend, a figure that pales in comparison with Shrek Forever After’s box office performance in 2010, which saw that film earning 54% of its opening receipts from 3D screenings.

It appears that consumers’ main problem with 3D films is cost. A ticket for the 3D Pirates of the Caribbean in the UK costs around £3 more than one for the 2D film, with the price soaring even higher to see it in IMAX-quality 3D. And in the States an IMAX ticket costs double the price of one for standard 2D.

While a difference of a few pounds might not sound so big a deal in itself, a great many of this summer’s 3D blockbusters – Pirates, Thor, Kung Fu Panda 2, Cars 2 – are aimed at a family audience. And obviously, buying multiple tickets for a whole family means that those few pounds snowball into a lot of unwelcome extra outlay.

There’s also the more prosaic truth that audiences may simply be tiring of 3D. Since its resurgence, largely propelled by James Cameron’s Avatar in 2009, 3D has divided opinion, with optimistic movie industry bods hailing it as their saviour from online piracy and critics deriding it as a passing fad. But big-name Hollywood directors are now starting to lash out at 3D, too: Tim Burton has announced that his next film, Dark Shadows, will not be made in 3D, and Green Lantern director Martin Campbell has publicly admitted that he isn’t a fan.

Could this be a case of history repeating itself? After all, 3D films were hugely popular for brief periods in both the 1950s and 1980s before a combination of technological limitations and audience weariness drove them out of the mainstream and back underground.

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Have we all got fed up with forking out for dark glasses at the cinema, or are these reports of the death of 3D greatly exaggerated? Penny for your thoughts…