In between its 50s heyday and its current-day renaissance, 3-D films briefly came back in vogue in the early 80s. This period was only punctuated by a handful of films, the most notable of which all happened to be the third installments of popular horror franchises. So let’s take a little look back on this trifecta of third dimension terrors and the mark they made on pop culture history.
Opening weekend: $9.4 million
Total domestic gross: $36.6 million
In the early 80s, advances made in 3-D technology, along with the release of a couple of quickie, low-budget 3-D flicks, caught the attention of the major motion picture studios. Frank Mancuso, Jr. got the ball rolling at Paramount and soon movie theatres across North America were being upgraded to support the next generation of 3-D films. Originally, Star Trek III was slated to be given the inaugural 3-D treatment, but when that plan fell through, Friday the 13th Part III ended up with the honour.
It proved to be a wise decision, because even though the expensive 3-D process resulted in a bigger budget than the typical slasher films of the day were given, the box office results were worth it. Friday the 13th Part III not only opened at #1, but it also became the film to finally dislodge E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial from the top slot. It also greatly improved of the box office results of Friday the 13th Part 2 and helped set the franchise on its path to longevity.
Its success also prompted other studios to take notice, and soon its formula for success was being implemented on other familiar franchises – albeit with drastically different results.
Opening weekend: $13.4 million
Total domestic gross: $45.5 million
Whereas the addition of 3-D to Friday the 13th Part III was generally seen as nothing more than a fun enhancement to the film, the 3-D aspect of the second Jaws sequel was generally regarded as a “gimmick” to lure viewers into theatres. Basically, Friday the 13th Part III could stand on its own without the 3-D effects, but Jaws 3-D was seen as a poorly written and directed film than relied heavily on its 3-D effects. This might not have necessarily been a problem however, if the effects were well done. Unfortunately, while Friday the 13th Part III had a number of practical effects and props designed for it, Jaws 3-D relied more on a number of post-production effects that were hardly convincing on their own, and then made worse due to the murky 3-D conversion process.
Still, as a gimmick, it did the trick and pulled in some respectable box office numbers. And while it ended up raking in more than Friday the 13th Part III, it didn’t mirror that film’s feat of improving on its previous franchise entry. Coupled with the poor reception it received critically and its dismal and cheesy effects, the most successful film of the 80s 3-D revival also signaled that the end of this era was near. And in just a few months, the last major 3-D film of the 80s would confirm it.
Amityville 3-D (1983)
Opening weekend: $2.3 million
Total domestic gross: $6.3 million
Just as with Jaws 3-D, the third Amityville film appropriated “3-D” directly into its title, making dual use of the numeral 3. However, due to a potential lawsuit from The Lutz family (whose history with the iconic, supposedly haunted/cursed New Jersey house provided the basis for the first two Amityville films), the makers of Amityville 3-D had to actually add a disclaimer to the film’s advertisements that stated it was not a sequel to The Amityville Horror and Amityville II: The Possession.
Ultimately, that proved to be of little consequence to the film’s reception. The 3-D effects were called out for being blurred, murky and headache-inducing while the film itself struck out big-time with critics (it currently has a 0% rating on the aggregate rating site Rotten Tomatoes). The Amityville franchise was already faltering before Amityville 3-D hit the theatre, and even though it opened at #1 just like Friday the 13th Part III and Jaws 3-D, its take was so meager that its total domestic gross didn’t even come close to the amounts those films pulled in for just their opening weekends.
The new age of 3-D was now most certainly as dead as any of the hapless victims featured in this triumvirate of 3-D terrors, and it would take over 20 years before 3-D would again make a significant mark on moviedom.
Nowadays, the improvements in the 3-D process has resulted in many films of a quality that is leaps and bounds beyond those of the 80s. However, that doesn’t stop many a genre lover from looking back at this era and these films with endearing nostalgia for delightfully silly effects viewed through cheap, cardboard, two-toned glasses.