IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

The best and worst of the year in 3-D

One of the most compelling facts about the opening weekend of “Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides” — in addition to the realization that a movie can have a $90 million opening weekend and still be considered an underperformer — was the news that more viewers opted to see the film in 2-D than 3-D. Thirty-eight percent of the film’s opening-weekend take came from non-IMAX 3-D scre
/ Source: TODAY contributor

One of the most compelling facts about the opening weekend of “Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides” — in addition to the realization that a movie can have a $90 million opening weekend and still be considered an underperformer — was the news that more viewers opted to see the film in 2-D than 3-D. Thirty-eight percent of the film’s opening-weekend take came from non-IMAX 3-D screens, whereas the percentage for the opening weekends of “Shrek Forever After” and “How to Train Your Dragon” was 54 percent and 57 percent, respectively.

So while we may be seeing the beginning of 3-D’s decline, it’s not going anywhere just yet. Here’s a look at the major films that have already leapt off the screen so far this year:

Success!

'Kung Fu Panda 2'

Animated movies tend to be less of a chore to watch in 3-D than their live-action counterparts, and the addition of a third dimension definitely provides a jolt to this action comedy’s fighting-and-chasing-and-more-fighting sequences. Luke Y.Thompson of E! Online called it "inarguably the best use of 3-D in a long time."

'Rio'

“Avatar” showed us that flying sequences can look pretty amazing in 3-D, so naturally this movie about birds and Brazil gave us an endless array of soaring-off-Sugarloaf-Mountain scenes. Claudia Puig of USA Today praised it as "the first movie since last year’s ‘How to Train Your Dragon’ that puts 3-D technology to good use with some eye-popping, swooping flight scenes involving birds and hang gliders."

'The Green Hornet'

Michel Gondry is known as a visionary filmmaker, and he brings a few treats to the 3-D table in this exuberantly silly superhero adventure. One scene that stands out features a screen split in eight pieces, with each piece moving back and forth within the frame. Matt Neal of The Standard (Australia) wrote “there are a handful of eye-poppingly awesome sequences."

'Born to Be Wild'

This IMAX-exclusive documentary made orphaned monkeys and elephants even more adorable by adding the third dimension. Said Variety's Peter Debruge: “Given the sheer scale of the format, IMAX provides an ideal context in which to experience 3-D, allowing the eyes to wander about each periphery-filling frame and focus on whatever catches our interest, the way we do in the real world."

'Cave of Forgotten Dreams'

Werner Herzog’s exploration of the French caves that feature some of mankind’s earliest art may have gotten off to a slow start — it opened on just five screens, in contrast to most of the mega-releases listed above – but it’s proving to have box-office legs. On top of that, it’s one of the few movies whose use of 3-D even format opponent Roger Ebert endorses — in his review, he noted, “[Herzog] uses 3-D as a way for us to enter the film's space, instead of a way for it to enter ours. He was correct to realize how useful it would be in photographing these walls. To the degree that it's possible for us to walk behind Herzog into that cave, we do so.”

Just OK

'Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides'

Unlike many of the films on this list, this one was at least shot in 3-D — as such, it’s pretty shameless about pointing swords right at the camera lens for maximum effect. Things like long hallways, leaping mermaids, and chase scenes also occasionally look pretty cool through those glasses. Although not everyone agreed: “As for the sequel's use of 3-D, other than the odd sword being jabbed at you, it's inconsequential,” wrote Kevin Williamson of Jam! Movies. 

'Justin Bieber: Never Say Never'

The slo-mo hair flips no doubt drove the singer’s young fans into a state of frenzy, but this concert film (where only the performance footage is 3-D) doesn’t quite exploit the format the way the Jonas Brothers did, when they fired foam cannons at their audience (and at the lens). Still, as AP’s Christy Lemire pointed out, this documentary/infomercial “includes an unusually effective use of 3-D from director Jon M. Chu (“Step Up 3D”), so get ready for plenty of shots of Bieber looking longingly into the camera, reaching out to grab your hand while singing one of his infectious pop tunes.”

Pointless

'Thor'

If the god of thunder isn’t going to throw that stupid hammer at the camera even once, then what was the point of releasing this in 3-D? “The 3-D process in question is one of those aftermarket fakes that enhances mainly mid-distance bodies and structural elements within the frame, so you can take the glasses off during most of the close-ups—and much of the movie is shot in pitiless close-ups,” wrote Joe Morgenstern of The Wall Street Journal.

'Drive Angry'

Aware that audiences felt burned by the shoddy post-conversion of movies like “Clash of the Titans,” the marketers for this Nicolas Cage action flick plastered the words “Shot in 3-D” so prominently on the poster that they looked like part of the title. Not that such advertising helped place many butts in seats. “The 3-D has no pretensions about ‘immersing’ the viewer: it’s pure gimmick from start to finish — with everything from bullets to severed hands flying towards your face," wrote Jordan Faley of SFX (UK).

'Gnomeo and Juliet'

A few months later, this movie’s barrage of Shakespeare-based puns and its egregious overuse of songs by producer Elton John stand out more than any use of 3-D. “If only the 3-D hadn’t been wasted on the claustrophobic trappings of a backyard feud. Just one sequence — a whooshy chase through city streets — exploits the technology’s visual kick,” said Amy Biancolli of the Houston Chronicle.

'Priest'

This holy warriors vs. vampires epic was dark, dreary, and unexciting, with 3-D that was obviously tacked on in post-production. “It turns out that vampire-fighting priest Paul Bettany has little character and the 3-D effects are appalling,” wrote Graham Young, of the UK's Birmingham Mail.

'Sanctum'

This claustrophobic spelunk-athon provided a thrill or two, but when it comes to shooting 3-D movies inside caves, Aussie director Alister Grierson is no Werner Herzog. “(The film) nicely juggles the requirements of confined space adventure with the movie’s somewhat more pedestrian human drama. No need for a 3-D presentation, though,” wrote Brent Simon of SharedDarkness.com.

'Mars Needs Moms'

3-D was the least of this animated flop’s problems, with audiences and critics alike shunning its unsettling, dead-eye motion-capture animation and rotten script. “I've never been able to completely get into the 3-D quasi-animated films made using the motion-capture technology championed by producer and director Robert Zemeckis," said MSN's Glenn Kenny. "In fact, more often than not, the look of such movies creeps me out."

'Hoodwinked Too! Hood vs. Evil'

Pity the poor parents who had to shell out extra so their children could watch this nearly laugh-free kiddie comedy. “Just because it’s better than the original, that doesn’t make it good. It’s still the lowest quality computer animation to hit the big screen, and putting it in 3-D for more cash is just mean,” said Jeff Bayer of The Scorecard Review.