In 2009 there will be at least 14 films released in the United States in 3D, including the long awaited James Cameron “Avatar”. Studios from Dreamworks to Disney are expanding facilities, hiring new programmers and animators all in the hope that filmgoers will continue to flock to 3D. So far, the format has proved lucrative. Although only 20% of the screens Beowulf played on were 3D, they ultimately accounted for 40% of its receipts. Part of that was due to a greater amount of warm bodies in the 3D seats, but more importantly, part of that was due to the extra cash paid by the Imax patrons who saw it in 3D.  Now, Imax format has always commanded an extra fee over a regular screen, but come on, three stories of visuals is kinda worth it, don’t you think?  A regular screen with 3D?  What’s that worth?  Apparently, an extra Lincoln.

Currently there are a little over 1000 screens that are 3D ready, but that is expected to continue to increase. In fact, Jeffrey Katzenberg (head of animation at Dreamworks) has called digital 3D “the biggest thing that’s come out in our lifetime in movies” and with his “Monster vs Aliens” you’ll have to pay extra for that “comin’ at ya” look.

Will digital 3D be the third watershed moment in film the way sound and color were? Note I said “digital” because outside of the quality, 3D is not new. In the 1950s it was gimmick used to sell B-movies, mostly sci fi and horror and its origins go back to the 1920s. These days it’s still used mostly in genre niches like animation, horror and sci-fi. Take a look at next year’s slate:

  1. My Bloody Valentine
  2. Coraline
  3. Jonas Brothers Concert Movie
  4. Monsters vs. Aliens
  5. UP
  6. Ice Age: Dawn Of The Dinosaurs
  7. Piranha
  8. G-Force
  9. Final Destination 4
  10. Toy Story
  11. A Christmas Carol
  12. Planet 51
  13. Avatar
  14. The Princess and the Frog

So, eight animated, three horror, one sci fi and one concert movie (or horror, depending on your taste in music). While some may say that the second golden era of 3D is imminent, Mr. Katzenberg’s hyperbole seems premature. When sound arrived in Hollywood it only took three years for all films to adopt that standard.  The switch to color took more time, however, with most films leaving behind black and white by the 1960s. Will digital 3D become the standard like sound and color did? Again, it remains to be seen, but until we start seeing films like Milk, The Wrestler or The Reader shot in 3D I won’t believe the switchover is occurring.

But back to the titular question. Is it worth an extra $5? I would say that for the 2009 menu of films, perhaps. Most are expected to have great visuals that 3D will enhance and for the odd entry like My Bloody Valentine, you know it’s all about blood spurting out the screen and into your popcorn. So, yeah, I suppose Mr. Dreamworks producer guy, America will fork over an extra fiver for that. However, if the format becomes the norm, then I would expect the premium to disappear. Again, that’s down the road, and to be honest I can’t believe that 3D will become the norm until they develop a technology without the glasses.