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2011: The Year 3D Kills Mainstream Moviegoing?

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I've talked about this here and there over the last year, but we are now officially in 2011. Two things of note: 2011 will have the most packed summer schedule in recent memory. 2011 will have an obscene number of films being shown in 3D at multiplexes near you.

The Green Hornet, Sanctum, Gnomeo and Juliet, Drive Angry, Justin Beiber: Never Say Never, Mars Needs Moms, Thor, Priest, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, Kung Fu Panda 2, Green Lantern, Cars 2, Transformers: Dark Side of the Moon, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part II, Captain America, The Smurfs, Conan the Barbarian, Fright Night, Spy Kids 4, Final Destination 5, Piranha 3DD, Dolphin Tale, The Three Musketeers, Contagion, Puss in Boots, Immortals, Happy Feet 2, Arthur Christmas, Hugo Cabret, Sherlock Holmes 2, Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked, and The Adventures of Tin-Tin. That's 32 titles in 2011.

I'm sure I missed a few here and there. And I'm sure a handful of those titles may end up moving to 2012 and/or deciding to forgo the 3D conversion process for one reason or another. But that's 32 titles right there being released between January 14th and December 23rd of this year. 32 titles over a 50-week period. And just six of those titles are being released in the first four months of the year. That gives us 26 films being released in 3D over a 34-week period. So yes, if everything above pans out, that means that there will be nearly one 3D film being released every single week for the last 2/3 of the year. So in the heart of the summer movie season, we'll have several major 3D releases opening against each other.

In between the franchise pictures showing in 3D and the various 2D pictures, will there be room at any of your local theaters for Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides (trailer), Cars 2 (trailer), or Thor (trailer) in 2D? The question becomes, what will you do if the films you want to see are theatrically available in 3D, and only 3D auditoriums? This isn't just a matter of moviegoers deciding that they just don't need converted 3D to enjoy their favorite franchise pictures. Generally speaking, big-studio 3D releases that are offered in a healthy selection of 2D auditoriums end up splitting the ticket sales about 50/50. Point being, if moviegoers have the choice, about half of them simply opt for the 2D option. Just as film-goers have largely decided that maybe they don't want to pay the $5 surcharge and wear glasses to enjoy films that do not need to be seen in 3D to be appreciated, studios have so much 3D product coming your way that you may no longer have the choice to see these films in 2D theaters.

So the question becomes for the vast majority of moviegoers, the ones who view moviegoing as a casual hobby and/or pleasant family activity, is it worth it? Is it worth paying $15-20 per ticket? Is it worth spending $80 to take a family of four to see Kung Fu Panda 2? Are you and your college pals going to indulge in Piranha 3DD if the ticket will set each of your buddies back $20? If you're among those who said "no," what will you do if you don't have the option to see said pictures in the cheaper 2D alternative? Will you hold your nose and pay the ticket-price? Will you intentionally seek out cheaper matinée showings? Will you wait six weeks and hit a local second-run engagement (for those lucky enough to have that option)? Or, will you just skip the theatrical experience all together and just wait four to six months and rent the picture on Blu Ray?

I've said repeatedly for the last year that studios can and should charge whatever they want for 3D, IMAX, Smell-O-Vision, etc as long as audiences have a viable 2D viewing option at a theater near them. Deny them that at your peril. In these economic times, moviegoing is becoming less and less appealing as a casual entertainment option. While rising ticket prices combined with cheaper and cheaper home-viewing options have always been a problem, what we have is a perfect storm. We have the massive ticket-price increase for 3D engagements (+$5 a pop) combined with the various dirt-cheap rental options (Redbox at $1 a day for DVD, $1.50 for Blu Ray, the various monthly Netflix and Blockbuster options). The final nail in the coffin may be the flood of 3D product which, by making the biggest blockbusters into 3D-only engagements for much of the country, will basically amount to an across-the-board ticket price hike of about $5 in just one year.

What will happen after this year? I can only speculate, and I may be dead wrong. But I imagine that quite a few casual moviegoers, the ones who don't NEED to see the newest releases as soon as possible, will opt to put even more of the major studio product on their future Netflix queue. And films that might have otherwise survived and/or flourished in 2D will struggle as the attendance drop won't be evened-out by the higher ticket prices. If this does occur, surely 2011 will be the final year that studios basically convert everything they can get away with into 3D for the sake of higher ticket prices (after all, studios didn't jump into the 3D craze just to 'break even'). And if 3D again becomes an occasional specialty item for animated films and special events (like the eventual Avatar 2), will the audiences who fled the theaters in 2011 return in 2012? And what will happen to mass theater-going if they don't return?

Again, we won't know until we know. But what are your thoughts? How prevalent are 2D auditoriums for 3D pictures in your area? Are there movies that you'd see in theaters for a cheap matinée, but would skip if the only option was an uber-expensive 3D ticket? Are there any movies out this year that might actually benefit from the 3D?