Will Budget-Busting 'Avatar' Make or Break 3-D?

March 20, 2009
by Peter Martin

Twelve years ago, they said it couldn't be done. When James Cameron's Titanic got pushed back from a planned summer 1997 release date to the late fall, on top of multiple reports that the budget was the biggest ever, it was commonly thought that the film would never make its money back, that it would break the studios involved, and that Cameron's career was finished.

Cameron returned to the director's chair for Avatar, his long-awaited 3-D science fiction drama, due in December, and it looks like it will be a watershed movie. An upbeat article on 3-D in Time Magazine casually mentions that the budget has exceeded $300 million, which would make it the most expensive movie ever made. [* Time has now updated the article; see below.] No less an authority than Steven Spielberg "predicts it will be the biggest 3-D live-action film ever," which sounds great, until you realize that very few 3-D live-action films have been made recently. Box Office Mojo lists Spy Kids 3D: Game Over as the top-grossing live-action 3-D release in the US ($111 million) with Journey to the Center of the Earth close behind ($107 million). Avatar will have to do much better to have a prayer of making back its budget.

The biggest concern is that fewer theaters than anticipated have been converted to digital. In the Time Magazine article, Jeffrey Katzenberg of Dreamworks Animation "predicts that more than 2,000 theaters will be 3-D-ready by this week," just in time for the release of his studio's Monsters vs. Aliens on March 27.

What are your impressions of the new, improved 3-D? Did you see My Bloody Valentine or Coraline in 3-D? Will you seek out Monsters vs. Aliens in 3-D -- and pay a premium price -- or settle for 2-D? Will Avatar make or break 3-D?

* UPDATE: Thanks to commenter Eric for pointing out that Time has updated their article, which now adds at the end: "The original version of this story misstated the cost of the film Avatar as being in excess of $300 million. The correct figure is in excess of $200 million."

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