Falling ticket sales show the 3D bubble has burst
Hollywood's faith in the power of 3D movies to deliver a bright future of packed cinemas and spectacle-wearing audiences has been jolted by figures that show the format may already be floundering.
Seven months ago, James Cameron's science fiction epic Avatar burst on to the screen in three dimensions, taking in $2.7bn (€2.1bn) and becoming the highest grossing film of all time.
Studio executives compared the breakthrough to the development of first "talkies" almost a century ago, and fell over one another in the stampede to produce more such films.
But with the tally of major films released in the new format expected to reach 22 by the end of the year, there are signs that 3D may not, after all, be the panacea for falling ticket sales. The proportion of cinemagoers who opt to see new films in their 3D versions has fallen steadily over recent months, with more opting instead to watch them in the traditional -- and cheaper -- format.
When Avatar came out, 71 per cent of Americans who went to see it on opening weekend opted for a cinema showing the 3D version. In March, when the animated fantasy How to Train Your Dragon was released, 68 per cent of the audience chose to see the film that way.
But by May that figure for Shrek Forever After was down to 61 per cent. This month only 56 per cent saw The Last Airbender in 3D, and a week later only 45 per cent went for the newly released animation Despicable Me.
The figures have provoked debate within the industry, which had previously hatched plans to convert popular films on its backlist -- everything from the Star Wars trilogy, to Harry Potter, to the college pranks of Jackass -- into the cinematic style du jour.
But some fear that the "3D bubble" has already burst.
the influential US film critic Roger Ebert said Hollywood's current infatuation with 3D was just an excuse to add surcharges to already expensive cinema tickets.