3D Bottleneck at Foreign Box Office

Overseas audiences will have plenty of 3D options to choose from this summer -- perhaps too many -- as several 3D titles squeeze into a short time frame following the World Cup soccer tourney. According to some B.O. observers, the summer's 3D crunch is a result of delayed overseas bows to avoid competing with the monthlong sporting event, as well as pics stacking up to benefit from youngsters on summer vacation.

The worldwide 3D screen count stands at approximately 16,117 locations, with 5,700 in Europe and 4,300 in the Asia Pacific region. Paramount plans to launch two 3D pics, Shrek Forever After and live actioner The Last Airbender, in mid- to late July and early August, while Disney's 3D toon installment Toy Story 3 is skedded to expand to major overseas markets in Europe and Asia within weeks of the Par pair.

Studios often delay major releases until after the World Cup, ending July 11 this year, but for the first time, studios are faced with a 3D logjam caused, in part, by the tourney. Andrew Cripps, prexy of Paramount Pictures Intl., said an influx of 3D titles held over during the World Cup creates a higher-than-usual strain on 3D screens.

"The market is far more competitive in July and August than it normally would be because there are more movies trying to fit in to that time period," Cripps said. "And there are five or six major 3D movies coming into a market that may not have enough 3D screens to go around."

Shrek launched day-and-date in Russia on 354 3D screens, with $20 million, and has since cumed $48 million in that territory. Toon has grossed an overall $48 million, of which 68% came from 3D-equipped screens. Likewise, Toy Story 3 will kick off its overseas run this weekend in 25% of the overall world market, led by Russia and China, with most other territories set to follow during July and August. Disney estimates the toon will play a total of 8,700 3D screens internationally, while Par plans to screen Shrek on approximately 250-350 3D-equipped screens in major markets.

"You have to be very specific in where and how you address each market," said Disney prexy of global distribution Chuck Viane. "It's not easy, but people are so enamored by the story of Toy Story 3, overseas exhibs were very helpful at helping us line up what we believe to be the proper dates."

While targeting younger auds, Cripps said Airbender should also appeal to older demos, which could differentiate the film from the 3D toon offerings. Par will look to maintain its share of 3D screens when it launches The Last Airbender, directed by M. Night Shyamalan, during July and August. Pic will debut in the U.S. July 1, followed a week later by Russia.

The increase of 3D product is spurring efforts to meet the demand for more screens. Global digital cinema projection company Christie has established a new manufacturing facility in China to help meet the demand for 3D screens in growing Asian markets. With an estimated 5,000 total screens in 2009, China is adding an average of two every day.

"Certain 3D titles have encouraged exhibitors to keep making the investment in increasing their capacity," said Par vice chair Rob Moore. "If the movies work, people ultimately find a way to see them in 3D."

By Andrew Stewart, Variety