3-D 'Monsters' Invades Theaters

Friday's debut of Paramount and DreamWorks Animation's Monsters vs. Aliens ushers in the age of the 3-D tentpole as studios look to entice moviegoers with a new form of entertainment that comes with a heftier ticket price. Par is taking Monsters out in 4,104 locations, including 1,550 3-D sites, marking the widest bow yet for a 3-D title. (The remaining runs are conventional.) In terms of actual prints, film will play on 7,000 screens, 2,000 of them 3-D.

Elsewhere at the B.O., Lionsgate's horror/suspenser The Haunting in Connecticut could prove strong counterprogramming. It opens in 2,732 runs.

Frame's other new entry is Fox's 12 Rounds, the first pic from World Wrestling Entertainment's revamped film division. It opens in 2,331.

Monsters is sure to be analyzed from all sides considering how much Hollywood has riding on 3-D plus the fact that there still aren't enough 3-D-capable screens. Toon is the first of a handful of big-budget 3-D pics set to open this year, culminating at Christmas with 20th Century Fox's Avatar, from James Cameron.

The allure of 3-D is that theater owners charge $3-$4 more per ticket. Imax 3-D tickets are roughly $5 more. Until now, studios have only dipped a toe in the 3-D sea (Disney is the exception). The results have been impressive, with 3-D screens doing three and four times the business of a conventional screen.

The biggest worry facing Jeffrey Katzenberg's shop and other studios is the question of how many 3-D screens are enough. Hollywood had counted on there being many more 3-D screens by the time Monsters rolled out. But just as the country's three largest circuits -- AMC, Regal and Cinemark -- were about to get a line of credit to convert hundreds of screens, the economy collapsed. Before that, friction between studios and the three circuits held up the process.

One studio exec said, "The big question is, what comes first, the content or the theaters?"

Additional 3-D screens are going up every week. When Disney opened Jonas Brothers: The Concert Experience 3D on Feb. 27, there were only 1,271 locations.

Monsters actually debuted first in Russia and Ukraine last weekend, playing on both conventional screens and a limited number of 3-D runs. There are roughly 1,500 3-D screens overseas, with the U.K. having the largest concentration at 220, followed by China with 185. Par is rolling Monsters out on a staggered basis overseas to coincide with spring vacations. This weekend, it expands into several smaller markets, including the Czech Republic and the Philippines.

Katzenberg became the highest-profile 3-D ambassador last year when he boldly announced that beginning with Monsters, all DreamWorks Animation titles would be shot in 3-D. The added cost of shooting a film in 3-D is said to be $15 million.

There are two ways to watch 3-D pics, in regular theaters that have been equipped with digital 3-D screens -- the vast majority of those outfitted by Real D -- and in Imax. Monsters will play in 143 Imax locations, the widest Imax launch ever.

At the Bridge theater in L.A., a moviegoer will pay $17.25 to see Monsters on the Imax screen, $15.75 to see it in digital 3-D and $12.75 for the 2-D version. At AMC Century City, it's $17 for an Imax ticket, $16 for a digital 3-D theater and $12 for 2-D. In Chicago, it's $15 for Imax, $13.50 for digital 3-D and $10 for 3-D.

Among recent 3-D releases, Focus Features' Coraline exceeded expectations in grossing $73.4 million to date. Only 44% of the theaters in the first week were 3-D, but they made up 74% of the pic's gross. In week six, 3-D houses made up 80% of the gross.

Lionsgate's My Bloody Valentine -- the first horror title employing the new 3-D technology -- was another overachiever, grossing $51.4 million on the strength of its 3-D runs, which supplied 70% of the entire gross.

On Thursday, 3-D outfitter Real D said it has inked a deal with AMC to build an additional 1,500 screens in the U.S. and Canada.

There's no exact film with which to compare Monsters vs. Aliens because of the 3-D factor. Fox has had the most success with March toons. Ice Age: The Meltdown opened to $68 million in 2006, while Ice Age debuted to $46.3 million.

By Pamela McClintock, Variety