Movies in 3-D are becoming such big moneymakers that Hollywood studios are cramming them into the nation's theaters, even though there aren't enough screens available to give each film its fullest possible run.
That will mean an unprecedented number of 3-D movies for film fans to choose from this spring, and smaller profits for Hollywood studios than they might otherwise get with fewer 3-D competitors.
The pileup was created in part because studios want to capture some of the excitement surrounding "Avatar," the James Cameron epic released in both 3-D and traditional 2-D formats in December. At $2.4 billion in global ticket sales, it is the highest-grossing film ever. In addition to the novelty or richer experience that might drive more people to see a 3-D movie, tickets to 3-D movies also cost a few dollars more.
Around the time "Avatar" came out, Warner Bros. decided to convert a remake of "Clash of the Titans" from 2-D to 3-D and push its release back a week, to April 2.
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That means three 3-D movies will be on the market in a short span. DreamWorks Animation SKG Inc.'s "How to Train Your Dragon" comes out a week earlier, and The Walt Disney Co.'s "Alice in Wonderland" hits theaters March 5. And "Avatar" might still be playing in some places.
But a limited number of theaters can show these movies in 3-D, because not all theater owners have bought new digital projectors and undertaken other upgrades necessary to show movies in the format.
About 3,900 to 4,000 3-D-ready screens are expected to be available in the U.S. and Canada by the end of March. Typically, a movie in wide release might be shown on 3,000 to 10,000 screens in North America.
In the past, a smaller number of 3-D-capable screens was adequate when one major film at a time was being released in 3-D in addition to 2-D. Each movie had a longer run, and moviegoers who wanted to see it in 3-D could pick a convenient time to go.
With three out at once (not counting "Avatar"), each will get less exposure because some theaters with only one or two 3-D screens will have to choose which movies to show in 3-D.
"One or all three are going to suffer in some way," said Patrick Corcoran, director of media and research for the National Association of Theatre Owners. "It makes it a much harder decision on exhibitors on what to keep or what to drop or what to add, and probably should have been avoided."
Because of the lack of sufficient 3-D theaters, all three studios will also release 2-D versions of their films, as they have in the past. Dan Fellman, head of distribution for Warner Bros., said his studio will still meet its revenue targets for the 3-D version of "Clash of the Titans." If not for the 3-D logjam, it might get even more.
Hollywood can also take solace in the fact that this spring's 3-D screen count in North America is on pace to be twice what it was a year ago.