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Article - The 4D comes to the rescue of the 3D

Facing the unfulfilled promises about the longevity of the 3D, the movie industry places a new bet on the 4D, that is to say the cinema with sensory experiences. Step point.

With its artistic (Oscar of the best movie 2010) and, above all, financial success (almost 1,860 billion euros of receipts), Avatar announced the real beginning of the 3D adventure for a whole industry. The initiative was not a new one (in the 50’s, three dimensional cinema was launched to fend off the TV’s development)… but remained a quickly forgotten curiosity, even if famous figures such as Hitchcock used it as in “Dial M for murder”. 

With Avatar, there was new hope and the development of the 3D was encouraged by the charismatic speeches of its brilliant movie director. For James Cameron, the 3D is the essential tool to promote cinema on all supports as it fosters the screens’ exploitation and the renewal of the movie language.

 Avatar’s leverage effect is not sufficient yet…

Can’t a single movie call the shots? Lots of producers tried to follow Cameron’s steps, but the 3D’s future did not grow stronger. For at least three reasons: the lack of comfort for the audience because of the glasses and the headaches that could arise after … yet the technology 3D without the special glasses does not mean a thing. Specific screens lead to a raise of tickets’ prices being up to 30 or 40% higher than a classic screening projection. According to a study from the Scholè Marketing group, these prices are not justified by the films’ quality as, since Avatar, we witnessed the development of an artificial “added” 3D more than the one of a real esthetic, creative or technical added value.

Therefore, without innovating, 3D becomes again a fad, a kind of “gadget”, according to Michel Ciment, historian, that cannot last; especially as it requires a specific technical equipment and very important investments. Studios made their calculation quickly. Figures corroborate this mitigated feeling: 2011 was the year when the saturation point for 3D was reached, according to the CNC. Although more and more movies are shown in 3D, the audience tends to privilege the 2D, which remains the biggest source of income for cinemas. Whereas in 2010, tickets for 3D movies represented 60 to 70% of their income during the first exploitation week of a movie, in 2011 it only represented 40%.


Between 2010 and 2011, 3D movies’ market share remains stable in all the countries, whereas the number of movies doubled

2010  Market share of 3D movies Number of 3D movies % of overall number of tickets sold % of the cinema's income
Germany 20,40% 24    
U.K. 24,00% 26    
South Korea     16,50%  
USA   22   20,60%
2011 Part de marché des films 3D Nombre de films 3D % des entrées totales % des recettes totales
Germany 22,80% 46    
UK 22,00% 47    
South Korea   22 11,70%  
USA   38   19,10%


Sources : Germany : FFA in CNC, les études du CNC mars 2012 ; UK : Rentrak EDI in CNC, les études du CNC mars 2012 ; South Korea : KOFIC in CNC, les études du CNC mars 2012 ; USA : Boxofficemojo in CNC, les études du CNC mars 2012.

For the most optimistic ones, 3D could rather be a first step toward what is the ambition of every distributor with the intention to bring more audience to cinemas: using each sense to “restore a perfect illusion of the outer world through sound, color and 3 dimensions” as René Barjavel explained it, or the “total cinema” imagined by the historian André Bazin inspired by Wagner’s “total opera”. But this is only possible, of course, if authors take these changes of paradigm into account in their realization.

4D: 3D enhanced with a sensory experience

So, is the 4D an avatar of the 3D? The concept of 4D designates a 3D cinema with sensory effects, as wind, rain or earthquake simulation, that are possible thanks to technologies installed within the auditoriums. Seats’ vibrations or sprayers allow that for example. Technologies that have contributed to the success of theme parks... This type of experience is offered in about 175 cinemas in the world. According to Scholè Marketing, it remains a “niche market”, mostly because of the investments that it requires: a 4D seat costs almost 8 000 Euros whereas a classic one only 4 700.

A strong disparity in investments depending on the countries     

For now, only 0.1% of the screens in the world are fitted out with 4D technologies, whereas 15% of the screens can project 3D movies (and even more in the USA where the number reaches the number of 31.5%). 4D cinema answers a cultural demand that varies from one country to another. South Korea is the biggest potential market, where the public particularly enjoys feeling seats move during an action scene or being sprayed with water when the hero is soaked in the rain... Other countries also seem interested such as Thailand and Mexico. The future of 4D then  also depends on, on the one hand, the producer’s capacity to create movies that can fit these markets’ expectations, and, on the other hand, on the creativity of cinema owners to make 4D experiences profitable thanks to other services, as exclusive services or private projections.


Sources :

Actualités internationales, numéro 231, Les études du CNC, mars 2012

Cinéma total, René Barjavel, 1944

Le mythe du cinéma total, André Bazin, 1946

Les perspectives du cinéma de la 3D à la 4D, Etude Scholè Marketing

Pour ou contre la 3D au cinéma ?, Le nouvel Observateur, rue89, Louis Lepron