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‘Avatar’ Faces Traffic Jam at 3-D Screens

By January 30, 2010Newswires

‘Avatar’ Faces Traffic Jam at 3-D Screens
by Michael Cieply and Brooks Barnes

LOS ANGELES — Will it soon be time for 20th Century Fox’s “Avatar” to surrender the 3-D stage? Walt Disney Studios certainly thinks so.

“Alice in Wonderland,” a 3-D adaptation from Tim Burton and Disney, is set to replace “Avatar” in all commercial Imax theaters and in many multiplexes that operate 3-D screens on March 5.

The problem is that “Avatar” is still playing like gangbusters — especially in 3-D theaters, which charge premium prices for tickets and have been instrumental in making “Avatar” a box office phenomenon — and exhibitors are grumbling at having to let go of a sure winner to pick up an uncertain new prospect.

Fox executives are now quietly talking about fighting to hold some of the big-format screens for “Avatar,” perhaps by giving more favorable financial terms to theater owners who keep it. Disney is set to take over the 3-D real estate just two days before the Academy Awards, a situation that would make it hard for “Avatar” — a front-runner for best picture — to get the traditional Oscar box office bump.

A similar showdown is brewing between, on the one side, DreamWorks Animation and Paramount Pictures, which plan to release the animated “How to Train Your Dragon” in 3-D on March 26, and, on the other side, Warner Brothers. Warner has just decided to convert its sword-and-sandals fantasy “Clash of the Titans” to a 3-D format and release it on April 2. “How to Train Your Dragon” will have to make do with fewer 3-D seats, which sell for a $3 to $5 premium.

The 3-D bottleneck is likely to grow worse. Michael Lewis, the chief executive of RealD, which equips theaters that account for about 90 percent of 3D screens in the United States, said about 60 films were set for 3-D release over the next three years.

“As audiences experience more 3-D movies, scheduling challenges for theater owners and studios will naturally increase while there is a temporary shortfall of 3-D screens,” Chuck Viane, Disney’s president for distribution, said in a statement. Another Disney executive, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to comment, said the studio did not see “Avatar” as a problem because early interest in “Alice in Wonderland” was quite strong.

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