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How Are Those 3D Re-Releases Doing?

The 3D version of ‘Terminator 2’ opened poorly, even for a generally awful weekend at the box office.
By  · Published on August 28th, 2017

The 3D version of ‘Terminator 2’ opened poorly, even for a generally awful weekend at the box office.

This weekend saw the worst box office results in 16 years, and there are a few factors. Certainly Hurricane Harvey kept a lot of the country out of theaters. Then there was the big Mayweather/McGregor fight on Saturday keeping millions at home — at least a few hundred thousand boxing fans saw the match on the big screen, however, enough to put the event in the box office top 10 with $2.6M. But a significant factor was the lack of appealing movies hitting cinemas last Friday.

Except Terminator 2: Judgment Day, a 26-year-old sequel that remains popular with critics (100% on Rotten Tomatoes for this re-release) and fans (currently the 43rd favorite movie of all time based on IMDb ratings). The movie was converted to 3D with oversight by director James Cameron and re-released exclusively in AMC theaters for one week with potential for expansion had it done well. It didn’t do well. Even for only being on 386 screens, its weekend total of $583K is disappointing.

All the above factors are to blame, to a degree, and many are saying Cameron’s recent comment about Wonder Woman being a backwards step for action heroines compared to Terminator 2 didn’t help, either. Here’s another possibility: moviegoers don’t care about seeing a 2D classic turned into 3D anymore. Despite guys like Cameron and Jeff Katzenberg always hoping 3D would become the standard rather than be looked at as a trend, the latter is how audiences have accepted the format, thanks to a majority of Hollywood players treating it as a business move instead of artistic and commercial progression — like sound and color.

Tickets for the 3D option of theatrical releases has been on the decline in the last few years, and interest in 3D-conversion re-releases is waning even while it should be that special theatrical events and reissues are growing. The success of the Mayweather/McGregor fight is indication of that, as are many one-time screenings of other live events via Fathom and are recent re-releases as niche as Tarkovsky’s Stalker, which made $259K on just six screens, earlier this year, and Tampopo, which did $224K on four screens last year. That doesn’t even include the classic movie series at cinemas across the country that must be doing decent easy business.

Ironically, Cameron is probably to blame on another level. His push for digital 3D was focused on his 2009 movie Avatar, and that was something worth the money because it utilized the format beautifully. Eight years later, he’s had nothing else to offer us, not even a 3D underwater documentary, of his own. He’s produced some stuff (including the underwater doc Deepsea Challenge 3D), but nothing that could draw crowds the way his directorial efforts do. Committing to Avatar sequels and continually delaying them isn’t doing the US box office any favors. China, which still loves 3D, will make it all okay for Cameron, at least.

Doing something too much, especially poorly, causes saturation and eventual loss of excitement, but maintaining regular, consistent output of something worthwhile is also important to keep excitement for that thing. Cameron overseeing a year-long, quality 4K 3D conversion of a movie as popular as Terminator 2 should be something movie fans want. But it’s been four years since we saw another 3D re-release, and even then the idea was decreasing in quantity and demand from the peak (or glut) the year prior.

Here’s a chronological look at 3D re-releases up until now (all figures adjusted for inflation for proper comparison):

The Nightmare Before Christmas received a 3D conversion re-release and opened with $4.4M on only 168 screens (12th place) for a per-screen average of $26.5K and went on to gross $11.8M extra that year.

Disney put out the same movie again the following year, and it opened on more screens, 564 this time, for a $6.9M debut (eighth place) for a per-screen average of $12.2K and a total of $18.7M before leaving theaters.

Disney made it an October tradition with The Nightmare Before Christmas arriving this time on just 284 screens, opening with only $493K (24th place) for a per-screen average of $1.7K and final tally for this issue of $1.4M.

The Nightmare Before Christmas got one more go in theaters, this time down to only 105 screens and an opening of only $$167K (35th place), which was still at least averaged at $1.6K per screen. It finished with $503K for that run. Altogether, Disney added an extra $32.4M to the animated feature’s original domestic gross of $107.4M.

Earlier in the month of that final Nightmare re-release, Disney also put out a double feature of the 3D-converted Toy Story and Toy Story 2 on 1,745 screens, and it opened with $14.6M for a per-screen average of $8.4K and final gross of $38M. The movies originally grossed $390M in 1995 and $425.3M in 1999, respectively.

No theatrical 3D re-releases, but DreamWorks put out 3D conversions of ShrekShrek 2, and Shrek the Third on Blu-ray.

Disney put out a 3D version of The Lion King on 2,330 screens and it opened to the tune of $33.8M, the average being $14.5K. It was the first re-release to open in first place since the Return of the Jedi Special Edition in 1997. It stayed at number one the following week, too. In all, the re-release added another $106M to the original 1994-release domestic gross of $663.4M.

Other converted movies were released exclusively on 3D Blu-ray, including Kung Fu Panda and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows — Part 1, along with some of the previously released 3D upgrades, such as the Toy Story movies.

First up was Beauty and the Beast, which hit 2,635 screens but wasn’t quite as successful as The Lion King, opening in second place with $20M for a $7.6K average and total add of $53.4M to the 1991-release gross of $310.8M.

Next came a 3D re-release of Star Wars: Episode I — The Phantom Menace. The prequel opened in fourth place with $25.2M on 2,655 screens, averaging $9.5K and grossing a total of $48.8M to add to the 1999-release domestic tally of $754.1M. The other six Star Wars movies existing up until then were supposed to follow, but Disney killed the idea after buying the franchise.

Cameron’s own Titanic was out next with a 3D upgrade. Re-released on 2,674 screens, the disaster drama opened in third place with $18.9M, averaging $7.1K. The total gross for that run was $63.4M, added to the 1997-release domestic gross of $1.1B.

Finding Nemo opened later on the most screens yet, 2,904. The payoff was a second place debut with $19.1M, averaging $6.6K per screen and adding a total $46M to its original 2003-release tally of $500.8M.

Disney/Pixar also gave us a 3D re-release that year of Monsters, Inc. This one opened in eighth place for its first weekend, taking in only $5.3M on 2,618 screens, the average being only $2K. But its whole re-release run was a decent $37.9M, added to the original 2001-release domestic gross of $400.8M.

Kicking off this year’s 3D re-releases, Top Gun returned on a mere 300 screens, opening in 11th place only $2.2M, the average still being a worthy $7.3K. But the smaller-scale reissue only made, in all, $3.4M more to go with its original 1986-release domestic gross of $423.6M.

Jurassic Park‘s 3D re-release was on 2,771 screens. Opening in fourth place with $19.8M for an average of $7.1K, the Steven Spielberg-helmed blockbuster added $50.8M to its original 1993-release domestic gross of $766.4M.

Finally, there was The Wizard of Oz, another scaling back with only 318 screens. The 3D version of the classic debuted in ninth place with $3.5M, however, which means an average of $11K, the best since The Lion King‘s in 2011. The re-release had a domestic gross of $6.3M. Its original gross is unknown.

No theatrical 3D re-releases.

Terminator 2: Judgment Day opened over the weekend on only 386 screens, but even so its $582.3K debut means its average was only $1.5K. More screens likely wouldn’t have helped it out that much. When it leaves at the end of the week, it won’t even add an extra $1M to its original 1991-release domestic tally of $432.6M.

The Future?
Will the disappointment of T2 spell the end for 3D re-releases being worthwhile for theater screens? In the past few years, while we had no others in cinemas, Disney and other distributors have been putting 3D conversions out on Blu-ray only. Titles you’d otherwise think would get theatrical re-releases such as The Little Mermaid and Predator.

Cameron had said that he’d do Aliens in 3D if T2 performed well. Perhaps he can still do that for a home video release, but moviegoers might not bother with it on the big screen. Like the case of T2, it could even be that audiences are over the Terminator and Alien franchises right now, given their sequels and prequels’ diminishing quality.

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Christopher Campbell began writing film criticism and covering film festivals for a zine called Read, back when a zine could actually get you Sundance press credentials. He's now a Senior Editor at FSR and the founding editor of our sister site Nonfics. He also regularly contributes to Fandango and Rotten Tomatoes and is the President of the Critics Choice Association's Documentary Branch.