The Top 3: 3D Films

The third dimension in film has been around a lot longer than you may imagine. Its first recorded use was at the Astor Theater in New York, on June 10, 1915.

Not quite the spectacle both audience and filmmakers were hoping for – an anaglyphic process (a 3D effect achieved by encoding each eye’s image using filters of different colours) was used, developed by Edwin S. Porter and W.E. Waddell.

3D audience

The result? Well according to Lynde Denig who wrote for Moving Picture World at the time – “Images shimmered like reflections on a lake and in its present form the method couldn’t be commercial because it detracts from the plot.”

Almost 100 years on, Denig’s review is still relevant and directly applicable to many recent releases. Modern filmmakers who choose to add 3D to their work often still struggle to utilise it to enhance the final picture. Instead the 3D effect usually detracts from the overall experience and in some cases, even highlights other technical and creative inadequacies.

If you know you’re films and had to name a 3D example from the last 30 years which stands out as the worst, most of you would probably name the renowned failure – Jaws 3D.

Although that monstrosity of a film had the power to convince every person on planet earth to never watch a 3D film again, it didn’t stop filmmakers from trying to harness our ever evolving technological capabilities in order to create convincing, entertaining 3D films. In fact, I think it may even have spurred a few of them on to prove that 3D can work in film.

jaws 3D

Obviously there was a lull after Jaws 3D’s release in 1983. I think we all needed a period of two-dimensional tranquillity before gathering enough strength to tackle the issue again.

But after the millennium, we did try again.

Of the most famed pioneers, it was James Cameron who started to take the reins and the initiative, in a bid to push us all forward into an era of 3D glory and acceptance. He forged new techniques and technological breakthroughs, allowing an increased number of less daring studio’s and their filmmakers to take an interest in how 3D could improve their productions with significantly less financial risk than before.

Of course, even with a world of possibilities at their fingertips and usually enough money to manipulate and create whatever they desire, many still managed to mess it up. This led to unfortunate releases such as Clash of the Titans (2010), Resident Evil: Afterlife (2010) and A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas (2011) all infecting our cinemas.

This last example brings me to another point. The visuals and story in the two former examples are at least suited to how a third dimension could increase entertainment value, but are 3D effects really going to enhance the viewing experience of films like the latter? Some 3D films may look good. But is the extra dimension really adding anything of significant value apart from increased ticket prices.


Take Ridley Scott’s Prometheus. Although the story isn’t quite what most of us were waiting and hoping for, the 3D element was realistic and effective. But that is as about as far as it goes. Although it may have looked attractive, the 3D aspect of Prometheus didn’t really pump up the entertainment meter or improve the viewing experience compared to the 2D version (I did watch both). Not enough to warrant about £3.50’s worth extra per ticket anyway.

So for these reasons, films such as Prometheus have not quite made this short but esteemed list. And trash like Jaws 3D and Harold and fucking Kumar certainly haven’t.

The top 3 3D films to date:

Avatar (2009)

James Cameron has contributed more than most in the development and successful application of 3D.avatar

After experimenting with the attraction of T2 3-D: Battle Across Time in 1996, and over a decade later, Cameron felt it was time to move on and deliver us a 3D fantasy film like no other: a film which would rival The Matrix for ingenuity, originality and ground-breaking, breath-taking visuals and special effects.

And most would agree he succeeded. Okay Avatar is a simple story at heart, but the scope of the project, its critical and box-office success, and most notably, the pioneering brilliance with the use of 3D, made sure we all stood up and took notice of what can be achieved with 3D when it is done right.

With Avatar 2 coming soon, it will be interesting to see if and how Cameron will improve upon the epically conceived and executed first instalment.

Dredd 3D (2012)

Now here is a prime example of how 3D can enhance a film’s story and action. Last year’s Dredd 3D was an underrated surprise in many ways. Thankfully it was 138 times better than the one starring Sylvester Stallone, but also, it turned outto be one of the most accomplished films of the year.dredd 3D

The cast were exceptional, the story slight, but compact, and the action and violence was emphatic but not gratuitous considering the source material.

And the 3D? The 3D in Dredd enhanced this already edge-of-your-seat sci-fi thriller and allowed the film to express its unrelenting and unforgiving grown-up story in a fashion simply not attainable with two dimensions.

Often combining well with the ‘bullet-time’ action, and allowing the audience to experience the full effects of the aptly named SLO MO drug which the antagonists dealt in, the 3D contributed to the feeling that you were right there with Judge Dredd, dodging the hail of gunfire and in a fight for your life.

Life of Pi (2012)

This year’s Oscar nominated Life of Pi by Director Ang Lee is based on an apparently unfilmable novel of the same title. Boy did Lee prove his critics wrong.

Much like Avatar, Life of Pi is a film which was begging to be made in 3D. And like Cameron’s sci-fi fantasy, this equally tragic and uplifting story just isn’t the same in of pi

A film which could have failed on so many levels – its location is mainly the sea, the majority of its main characters are CG animals, its protagonist has never acted before, Ang Lee once made Hulk – but none of this stopped Lee and co. from coming out on top.

It succeeded on all levels and the addition of 3D only served to further enhance the viewing experience of a film which probably won’t be rewarded with an Oscar, but if it were to be, it would be as deserving as any of the 84 other Best Picture Winners.

At some stages the 3D is so convincing and effective, it almost feels like an IMAX experience with exotic animals walking out of the screen and tigers springing towards you.

Here is a picture which proves that when filmmakers embrace and respect this new technology and its power to entertain, the result can be a truly memorable cinema experience.


About thenumbereightytwo

I am an avid film enthusiast with a passion for creative writing. My favourite things in life are writing about; film, popular culture and current affairs; watching films and looking at penguins. One day I hope to be getting paid more than I deserve for doing all of these professionally (not the penguin part - that will still be a hobby). View all posts by thenumbereightytwo

2 responses to “The Top 3: 3D Films

  • thenumbereightytwo

    That sounds possible Trinity. The deep scars received from watching this film at such an early age are bad enough, but a hot drink in the lap too? Try and fight your phobia by watching Life of Pi in 3D if you can still catch it anywhere. It would be worth it.

    Thanks for your comments.

  • Trinity Parker

    Having a quick read through your blog and I had to comment on this one. Jaws 3D was the first movie I ever remember watching – I must have been all of five years old at the time. I am not sure whether it is so memorable because it was such a great movie (ha!) or if it is because at one point during the movie my mother jumped and spilled her scalding hot drink all over me (more likely!). To this day, I am not a huge fan of 3D movies, I wander if it is because I started the 3D journey with Jaws?!?

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