‘Transformers’ Success Means 3-D Movies, Pricier Tickets Here to Stay

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Good for Michael Bay, Shia LaBeouf, Optimus Prime, and the rest of the “Transformers: Dark of the Moon” team: The movie, which opened last week, has been a tremendous success at the box office, and the amazing 3-D effects are one major reason why. Unfortunately, the film’s success means that audiences will surely be subjected to plenty of movies featuring bad, pointless, gimmicky 3-D down the line, largely because theaters can charge more for tickets that way.

For a little while, it looked like 3-D movies and the silly glasses audiences wear while watching them might be disappearing. The latest “Pirates of the Caribbean” film did poorly at the box office at least partly because movie goers seemed put off by the 3-D on screen and accompanying higher-priced tickets (they were probably also put off because it was a plain bad movie). The majority of audiences watching similarly poorly reviewed “Green Lantern” elected to see the cheaper 2-D version of the film. Consumers seemed to be sending a message to film studios and directors: We don’t particularly care for 3-D, especially not if it costs an extra $5 per ticket.

But now comes the new “Transformers” movie. The 3-D has been pumped up by director Bay as the best ever at the movies, and audiences thus far seem to agree: 60% of receipts in the U.S. are from its 3-D version.

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This doesn’t necessarily mean audiences are over the moon for 3-D. As the LA times 24 Frames blog points out:

–The 60% figure is a percentage of receipts, not admissions. And 3-D tickets cost an average of about 45% more than 2-D tickets do. So while the percentage suggests a heavy skew toward 3-D, the actual number of Americans who chose to see “Transformers” in 3-D compared to 2-D is roughly even.

Also, there’s no telling how many theaters were showing the film in both 2-D and 3-D versions. Nor is there a way to account for fans showing up to find out the cheaper 2-D version was sold out, and being forced to buy the pricier 3-D tickets.

The larger issue is that even if movie goers are dazzled by the state-of-the-art 3-D in “Transformers” and happy to pay to enjoy the spectacle, that doesn’t mean they’re game to pay extra for 3-D effects in an otherwise unentertaining movie. But if movie makers think 3-D is a means to reap benefits at the box office, then 3-D is a trend we’re sure to see more of at the movies.

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Brad Tuttle is a reporter at TIME. Find him on Twitter at @bradrtuttle. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.