3D first appeared on movie screens in the 1950s via Arch Oboler’s surprise hit BWANA DEVIL (1952), which promised and delivered a lion in your lap. However, thanks to the difficulty of having two projectors running in perfect sync at all times, there were numerous technical problems that led to eyestrain, headaches, and audience dissatisfaction. Within two years, 3D was dead.
It resurfaced periodically throughout the next three decades, thanks to isolated films appearing and doing well, particularly the softcore comedy THE STEWARDESSES (1969) and and the gruesome import ANDY WARHOL’S FRANKENSTEIN (1974). The 1981 spaghetti western COMIN’ AT YA! did well enough to spark another 3D boom but, once again, flawed presentations and mediocre movies caused the format to fizzle again within a couple of years.
The technology took a big jump in quality, thanks to James Cameron’s hugely successful AVATAR (2009). Digital 3D delivered much better quality, less eyestrain, and, theoretically, less presentation problems for exhibitors. However, audience interest has dropped off considerably in recent years. The technology may be partially to blame once again, but the main problem is that very little of interest is being down with 3D. Outside of animated features aimed at kids, very little comes out of the screen. Sure, there is depth, but how interesting is that on its own?
Most audiences now view 3D as little more than an excuse to hike up the ticket price and many now avoid the format. However, studios are still putting out 3D product and exhibitors often limit the number of 2D showings, making some pick 3D more out of convenience than interest.
3D TV was greeted with much interest a few years back, but while the technology was considerably improved over the old anaglyphic system, interest waned once again and the format died. As of 2017, no manufacturers are still producing 3D televisions. The new 4K format could easily accommodate 3D as well, but no one is including it.
The revenue percentage from 3D screenings has also dipped, but that is not yet the case in Europe or Asia, so it is premature to call the format dead. However, virtual reality seems the more likely successor.