Hollywood isn’t seeing as much green in 3D re-releases as it had hoped.
Considered an easy new revenue source after the 3D re-release of Walt Disney Studios’ The Lion King popped out of the screen and grossed nearly $100 million last year, most such follow-ups have landed with a thud in 2012.
Disney’s Beauty and the Beast and Finding Nemo were both disappointments, grossing $47.6 million and $40.7 million, respectively, in the U.S. and Canada. Twentieth Century Fox and Lucasfilm’s Star Wars: The Phantom Menace took in a similarly unimpressive $43.5 million. Fox and Paramount Pictures’ Titanic grossed a slightly better $57.9 million domestically last spring.
Audiences, it turns out, are very selective about which movies they’ll see again in 3D. The genre’s few hits were ones that moviegoers, or the children they took with them, hadn’t seen in a long time — or at all. Titanic, for instance, grossed almost $150 million in China, where few had seen the original 1997 epic romance.
That makes the stakes high for Wednesday’s 3D re-release of Monsters, Inc. Disney executives were particularly disappointed by the weak 3D box-office take for Nemo, one of Pixar Animation Studios’ most beloved and successful pictures. A soft performance by Pixar’s Monsters probably would make Disney — and other Hollywood studios — rethink their strategies.
“There’s a certain cultural cachet for parents bringing their kids to movies like The Lion King the same way their own parents did for them 20 years ago,” said Vincent Bruzzese, an executive at research firm Ipsos MediaCT. “But many of these movies, people have watched it at home with their kids, so 3D may not be something new or extra enough to pay the exorbitant cost of going to a theater.”
The cost of converting animated movies, particularly those made with 3D computer technology, is extremely low compared with a new production. Disney spent only about $3 million adding 3D effects to 2001’s Monsters, Inc.
However, advertising and releasing a film costs tens of millions of dollars, and ticket sales have to be split with theater owners. That makes it difficult to turn a profit on a box-office gross of less than $50 million.
In addition, 3D re-releases of films that have already been out on DVD and played on television don’t enjoy the substantial post-theatrical revenue that provide the majority of profit for new movies.
Nor do they tend to do well overseas. Internationally, the 3D Beauty and Nemo grossed only $17.3 million and $16.5 million, respectively.
Pre-release surveys show Monsters is headed for a modest opening. The best hope for it to perform better than its underwater predecessor is a lack of new releases for families with young children over Christmas.
Still, Disney does not appear optimistic about continuing the 3D re-release spate. It has no more planned after next September’s The Little Mermaid.