Companies that create 3-D film technology are zeroing in on the
mass market in China, where consumers are increasingly seeking
authenticity and a high-quality experience that cannot be pirated.
Zheng Huan and Tang Xiaomei, infrequent moviegoers from rural
Jiangxi in southeast China, saw their first 3-D film last week while
visiting the capital.
It was not the James Cameron film "Titanic 3-D," the highest-
grossing movie here this year and the third-highest of all time,
with 972 million renminbi, or $153 million, in ticket sales.
Instead, it was a swirling martial arts fantasy, "Painted Skin II,"
which Mr. Zheng said hurt his eyes but Ms. Tang said was
The two are a shade older than the 18- to 34-year-olds who made
Mr. Cameron's earlier 3-D hit, "Avatar," the highest-grossing film
in China, with 1.3 billion renminbi in ticket sales. Hollywood is
aggressively pursuing that age group now that China is the leading
export market for its films in terms of box-office receipts.
Last Wednesday, Mr. Cameron's 3-D technology company, Cameron
Pace Group, announced that it would set up shop in Tianjin, a
northeastern port city, as part of a government-backed joint venture
there. Last spring, Imax said it wanted to install 229 giant screens
The initiatives underscore the extent to which American
entertainment has gained a foothold in the Chinese market. With
movie tickets costing as much as 120 renminbi, or $19, for 3-D and
180 renminbi for Imax, these American technologies are delivering
content to Chinese consumers who are increasingly focused on
authenticity and a high-quality theater experience that cannot be
Currently, 7,000 of China's 11,000 screens are equipped for 3-D
screenings. RealD, a 3-D technology company based in Beverly Hills,
California, said it had nearly 750 3-D screens across China and
planned to install 1,250 in the coming years.
In 2008, two 3-D films were shown in China; about 30 will appear
in the country by the end of 2012. From January to June, 21 3-D
films -- 13 percent of all 159 theatrical releases -- accounted for
46 percent of the box office gross, according to data from Artisan
Gateway, a Shanghai-based film consulting firm.
"The beauty of it is that in rural China, you've got theaters
that might be the first theater that people attend in their lives,
and it's a digital 3-D theater," Mr. Cameron said last week.
"They're skipping the 20th century and going straight to the 21st.
Putting the glasses on won't be strange to them because that's just
how you watch movies. In the urban markets, they associate the
glasses with the premium viewing experience."
He likens the transition to 3-D in China to the evolution from
black and white to color movies in the West. Though the shift from
silent films to "talkies" was rapid in the late 1920s, the move to
color took about 25 years. Mr. Cameron expressed hope that the move
to 3-D would be even faster in China, perhaps taking 10 years.
He is betting on China's focus on things that are new and
technologically sophisticated, a contrast to North America, where
moviegoers have received 3-D tentatively. Box office revenue from 3-
D films in North America dropped 18 percent from 2010 to 2011,
though the 2010 figures included "Avatar," the first 3-D film to
reach $1 billion worldwide.
The Chinese government is encouraging more expensive
entertainment options as it strives to shift its economy toward
consumerism from manufacturing. In February, China further opened
its market to foreign films, letting studios release an additional
14 films (for a total of 34) if they were 3-D or in a large format
like Imax. …