May 2009 wasn't big enough for 3-D monsters, aliens and the "king of the world."
DreamWorks Animation SKG Inc. on Wednesday moved its action comedy "Monsters vs. Aliens" up to March 27 of that year -- avoiding a clash of 3-D epics with 20th Century Fox's "Avatar," a science-fiction thriller from director James Cameron.
The films had been on a collision course, with both studios originally aiming to open their biggest-ever 3-D bets on May 22 to capture Memorial Day weekend moviegoers.
DreamWorks recently shifted the computer-animated "Monsters" to May 15, but exhibitors remained concerned that the two films wouldn't get enough showtimes because there would be only an estimated 2,000-plus theaters equipped for 3-D by that time.
"It's less about fighting with somebody else than thinking about the long-term deployment of 3-D," said Rob Moore of Paramount Pictures, which distributes DreamWorks Animation's films. "The question was, how do we give exhibition a constant stream of product to make the investment in 3-D worthwhile?"
Studios and theater owners see 3-D as a potential catalyst for box-office growth. Movie attendance in the U.S. and Canada is down from the modern-day peak in 2002 amid a boom in home entertainment.
Today's 3-D technology is light-years beyond the version of the 1950s, when viewers donned green-and-red glasses, and it enables exhibitors to charge premium ticket prices. But first they must shell out $30,000 to $50,000 per screen for equipment such as digital projectors with 3-D capability and special reflective silver screens.
DreamWorks Animation Chief Executive Jeffrey Katzenberg is a vocal champion of the format. The Glendale-based studio plans to produce all its films in 3-D starting with "Monsters."
"Monsters vs. Aliens" and "Avatar" could be the first major films to derive the majority of their box-office revenue from 3-D showings, Moore said.
DreamWorks Animation typically releases only two films a year, one in May and one in November. But the box-office success of several March releases in recent years -- including the battle epic "300" and the first two movies in Fox's animated "Ice Age" series -- shows that spring break is becoming a prime slot for blockbusters, Moore said.
In 2009, the third "Ice Age" is slated for a Fourth of July week release, which leaves mid-March more open for family films such as "Monsters," he said.
Avoiding a showdown with Cameron can't hurt, either.
The director has a huge following among sci-fi fans after such hits as "Aliens" and "The Terminator." His "Titanic" holds the record with $1.8 billion in worldwide ticket sales. Its Academy Awards triumph prompted Cameron to famously declare, "I'm king of the world!"
Theater owners declined to comment on any discussions with studios about the 2009 schedule.
"We always felt like distribution would resolve the scheduling conflicts," said marketing executive Dick Westerling of Regal Entertainment Group, the nation's largest theater chain. "We are continuing to expand our 3-D locations."