Is 'Shrek's' box office collapse tied to sky-high 3-D ticket prices?
It has been big news everywhere that "Shrek Forever After" took a big tumble at the box office this weekend, barely scraping together $71 million in revenues, a dramatic fall from the grosses of the franchise's past sequels. What happened? The reviews weren't so bad and the DreamWorks Animation 3-D film earned an A from CinemaScore, signaling that the movie was still greeted with enthusiasm -- at least by the people who went to see it.
But according to industry analyst Richard Greenfield, the story within the story could be the steep rise in 3-D ticket prices. According to Greenfield, "Shrek's" box-office percentage from 3-D "declined notably" from DreamWorks Animations' last film, "How to Train Your Dragon," despite the fact that it was on a higher number of 3-D screens. As Greenfield put it in his subscription-only blog: "In fact, it appears that the average ticket price paid by consumers actually declined from 'How to Train Your Dragon' as a greater percentage of consumers simply opted to see the film in 2-D."
Even though the film was available on more 3-D and IMAX screens than "Dragon," "Shrek's" 3-D box office percentage actually fell to 61% from "Dragon's" 68%, while its IMAX 3-D fell to 7% from "Dragon's" 11%. Greenfield doesn't mince words. He writes: "We wonder whether the U.S. consumer is simply telling movie exhibitors that 3-D pricing has simply gone too far, too fast for the average movie. While consumers may have no issue paying a 3-D premium for a movie such as 'Avatar' or 'Alice in Wonderland,' consumers may downgrade to 2-D for weaker content such as 'Shrek.'"
That's bad news for exhibitors -- and for all the Hollywood studios putting a 3-D label on virtually every summer tentpole release coming in the next few years, since as everyone who goes to the movies regularly knows all too well, there are only so many "Avatar"-style groundbreaking movies out there. Most summer movies are sequels and remakes, which may be exactly the kind of "weaker content" that won't merit anyone spending the extra $4 a head to see in 3-D when the seats are just as comfortable and the popcorn is just as warm and crunchy in the 2-D theater across the hall.
Photo: Shrek and Donkey in a scene from the new film, "Shrek Forever After." Credit: Dreamworks Animation