Is this the end of 3D films?

With 3D movies stalling at the box office, could the format be doomed?

The British public is becoming bored with 3D films.

At least that’s according to a study by the boffins at Enders Analysis, which shows that box office receipts for 3D films dropped to a combined £230m last year - £7 million less than the 2010 total.

[Related feature: What are the most annoying cinema habits?]
[Related story: Cinema sued over costly snacks]

That doesn’t sound like a lot, except that a whopping 47 films in the format were released in 2011, 19 more than the year before. So the average takings for 3D flicks fell from £8.5 million to just £4.9 million. That’s a BIG slump.

Feeling blue?.. 3D cinema takings plummit

But why? When ‘Avatar’ was released in 2009, and promptly became the most successful film of all time, Hollywood types assumed every new blockbuster would be 3D, and the format would help lure punters away from their armchairs and back into cinemas.

The former has certainly happened. Since ‘Avatar’ (and before), films as diverse as ‘Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs’, ‘The Final Destination’, ‘Jonas Brothers: The 3D Concert Experience’ and even arthouse doc ‘Cave of Forgotten Dreams’ have been shot – or converted – into the format, in the hope that you, the public, will pay more to see them in the cinema.

[Related feature: How to save big bucks on your next cinema trip]

As Alice Enders, who did the study, said: "A few years ago people went to 3D films just to see what it was like. [But now] that period of experimentation is over. The reality has set in and the momentum has gone. The recession is a factor and families are pushing back against 3D."

And that’s the problem – 3D has made going to the cinema even more expensive. A pair of 3D glasses can set you back as much as £3.15 (in the Vue Leicester Square). Add this to the £13.25 adult ticket, plus popcorn (around £4), and you’re looking at twenty quid per person to see a film. Some might argue seeing ‘Cats & Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore' in 3D perhaps isn’t worth that.

Are you fur real?... The high price for 3D puts cinemagoers off

It doesn’t help that the 3D in some films has been fairly ropey to say the least. 2009’s ‘Clash of the Titans’ was heavily criticised by reviewers for the shoddy 3D that was put in after filming had finished (through a conversion process). The same with Tim Burton’s ‘Alice in Wonderland’. It could be argued that the 3D actually made these films worse.

Perhaps the issue is that too many films are using the format - even if there’s not really any point. Who could argue that ‘Avatar’ or Martin Scorsese’s excellent ‘Hugo’ benefited from the extra dimension?

The same possibly can’t be said for ‘The Smurfs’, ‘Dolphin Tale’ or the exploitative new 3D versions of ‘The Lion King’ and ‘Star Wars: Episode 1 – The Phantom Menace’. Savvy cinemagoers can usually tell if they’re being ripped off.

Perhaps film studios have finally woken up to this though: this year a mere 33 films will be released in 3D, according to Enders - a drop of 14 from 2011.

And another thing - last year’s biggest 3D moneymaker was ‘Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2’, but the majority of people who went to see it enjoyed it in bog standard 2D.

The ugly truth... Most people saw the final Harry Potter in 2D

The lesson? 3D was a nice added extra for fans, but they didn’t fork out for it because of that. Would ‘Avatar’ have been such a smash if – no matter how great the 3D – the film was tosh?

If Hollywood studios want to get more bums on seats again, the answer isn’t ‘more gimmicks’ – it’s ‘make better films’.

3D films: passing fad or enriching cinematic experience? Your views below please...