For a while The Return of the King was one of only three films that had grossed over a billion dollars worldwide. With inflation and surcharges for 3D movies, there are now ten films on that list. (We’re also talking dollars unadjusted for inflation, so the billion-plus club isn’t as hard to crack as it used to be.)
Box Office Mojo recently ran a story predicting which films currently in production are likely to reach that level of success. Not surprisingly, both parts of The Hobbit are mentioned as possibilities. As the author points out, “It probably won’t be as well-attended as Return of the King, though it doesn’t need to be to reach $1 billion, thanks to its 3D premiums and nine years of ticket-price inflation.”
I’m not convinced that 3D premiums are helping films anymore. I recently posted an entry on Observations on Film Art where I pointed out that since about May, theaters showing 3D versions of films are actually making less money than the ones showing 2D versions. Exhibitors are apparently starting to notice this trend, and more are choosing to show 2D versions. Variety reported this morning that Spy Kids: All the Time in the World took third place in the Friday box-office tally: “The summer’s new norm is to make about 45% of grosses off 3D screens, though that figure could be even lower this weekend with so many pics vying for 3D play and so many of “Spy Kids’” engagements opting for 2D.” (Fright Night and Conan the Barbarian also were released yesterday in 3D and 2D versions.)
If fewer exhibitors choose to show 3D prints of films, eventually the smaller number of theaters showing 3D will attract fans of that system, and those theaters will presumably start to make money again. But whether that income will be enough for studios to want to pay the extra money needed to make films in 3D in the first place is anyone’s guess. It’s quite possible that by the time the first part of The Hobbit comes out, 3D won’t be an important factor in boosting it over the $1 billion mark.
I for one got tired of 3D pretty fast. Apart from Werner Herzog’s wonderful The Cave of Forgotten Dreams, I haven’t seen a 3D print of a film since Up back in 2009. (Herzog not only found the perfect use for 3D, but his images have a more convincing, rounded three-dimensional look than anything in Avatar.) My suspicion is that The Hobbit will be a success for the same reasons that LOTR was.