Starting next summer, you may have to pay for those disposable 3-D movie glasses if you want to watch The Amazing Spider-Man or Men in Black III in three dimensions.
Sony Pictures confirmed to EW that the studio would stop footing the bill for 3-D glasses starting in May 2012. Each pair of 3-D glasses costs studios around 50 cents to purchase, which can result in a pricey $10 million invoice for a blockbuster film. (The Hollywood Reporter first reported the news.)
With 2005’s Chicken Little, Disney became the first studio to cover the fee for 3-D glasses. That decision was made as an incentive for exhibitors to renovate their theaters for 3-D, and the other studios followed Disney’s lead. But in 2009, Fox said it wouldn’t supply theaters with glasses for its summer release Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs. Regal Cinemas, the nation’s biggest theater chain, retaliated by saying it would only screen the film in 2-D. Ultimately Fox backpedaled and opted to pay for the glasses, but the first shot had been fired.
Now Sony is attempting to jump-start the battle all over again. The studio is reportedly in favor of an ownership model that would force audiences to purchase the glasses — a system that is already common in Europe and Australia. In the United Kingdom, for instance, moviegoers buy a pair of disposable 3-D glasses at the box office or concession stand for about a pound (or about $1.50). “If you already have your own pair from the last time you went to the movies, then you don’t have to spend that extra pound,” says Rick Heineman of RealD, which supplies the 3-D technology and glasses for 90 percent of the domestic market. “Or, in many cases, people are buying their own pairs of premium eyewear, whether it’s from Oakley, Polaroid, or Prada.”
Alternatively, exhibitors could pick up the bill, but that’s not likely considering how they responded back in 2009. Exhibitors already pay RealD a royalty charge of about 50 cents for every 3-D ticket sold, and many theaters had to purchase new digital projectors in order to screen 3-D features. “I’m paying to put in the silver screens and I’m paying to train employees to run the product,” one angry exhibitor told EW during the 2009 controversy. “To come in at this point and say they aren’t going to pay for the glasses, yet they want all the upside of the revenue, is ridiculous.”
It’s too early to say whether other studios with join Sony. Reps at Disney and Warner Bros. told EW that they’re currently having internal discussions on the issue. It’ll be particularly interesting to see how the theater chains respond to Sony’s announcement — at the time of this writing, a request for comment from the National Association of Theatre Owners (NATO) hadn’t been returned. But, in summary, if the studios decide they no longer want to be in the “glasses business,” and exhibitors decline to cover the charges, that leaves only one other option for who pays for 3-D specs: you.