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John Scalzi – Answering Your Questions About Iron Man 2

Iron Man 2 is soon to be upon us, and as luck would have it I have two Iron Man 2-related reader questions to answer this week. I love it when that happens!
First question:

There’s not much question that Iron Man 2 is going to have a very strong opening weekend. But do you think it would have done even better if it had been released in 3D?

The obvious answer to that would be “of course” — 3D movie tickets are offered at a premium (usually $3 extra per ticket over 2D film tickets) — and so you could just tack on that extra amount to the gross and roll it over, week in and week out and watch Iron Man 2 rocket its way to box office glory. But I don’t think the obvious answer applies here. And that’s because I think moviegoers are getting smarter about 3D, thanks to Clash of the Titans and the uproar that was made about its hastily-produced and ultimately pretty crappy 3D conversion (and the resulting spate of articles about it). Moreover, the moviegoers who are particularly smart about 3D at this point are the fanboys — i.e., the fervent fans who pack the theaters on opening weekend.
So, imagine you’re a fanboy (some of us don’t have to work too
hard on this). You’re all excited about seeing Iron Man 2, and
then you hear that just before its release, the film is rushed into a
computer lab and fiddled with a bit so the movie studio can charge you
extra for oooooh! 3D! Which you know means a) the 3D
effects won’t actually be very good, b) the colors will be muted
because of the glasses you have to wear, c) the studio releasing
the film figures you’re dumb enough to ignore both of these. Does this
make you more likely to see the film opening weekend? Or less?
this point, I suspect the fanboy answer is “less,” and I suspect
Paramount (IM2’s studio) knows this. Paramount also knows that even in
its current, dimensionally unmolested state, Iron Man 2 is going
to have a huge opening weekend — heck, it’s already had a $100
million opening weekend, since it was released internationally last
weekend — so, really, why mess with a good thing?

This isn’t to
say the inevitable Iron Man 3 won’t be in 3D; it almost
certainly will be. But at least then the film will be able to be
designed and shot in 3D and that will make a significant difference. And
in the meantime, I’m going to predict that Iron Man 2’s
ultimately going to roll in something between $700 and $800 million
worldwide, which is a nice little sum, no matter how many dimensions you
look at it in.
Second Question:

You’re a
science fiction writer and movie fan; do you think that comic book films
like Iron Man 2 and fantasy films are crowding out science
fiction films? You noted last week how few science fiction films there
are this summer.

It’s true there are fewer scifi films this summer than last summer, but I don’t think that means
much of anything in the larger picture. First, I don’t think that
studios make the same sort of fine-grained distinctions that we geeks
and nerds do about these things. Iron Man 2 and Pirates of the
and Star Trek are all in the same very general
category of “effects-laden action blockbuster” rather than “comic book
movie,” “fantasy movie” and “science fiction movie” respectively. In
that sense, this summer is just as dense with effects-laden action
blockbusters as last year’s was (and of course there’s some
cross-pollination; Iron Man 2 is a science fictional comic book movie).
reason I think that studios don’t make that sort of fine-grained
distinction is because they don’t have to: the opening weekend audience
for Iron Man 2 is pretty much the opening weekend audience for Transformers
is pretty much the opening weekend audience for Harry Potter. Some
of the hardcore audience may be different (I have suspicions that the
most fervent of Potterites might see a Transformers diehard as the very
worst sort of muggle, for example), but the larger mass of the audience
are the folks who come out for all the PG-13 eye-popping popcorn
shovelers. I don’t think there’s a thing wrong with that; when I go to
the movies in the summer, I’m one of those folks myself.
said, it will not have escaped notice that six of the top fifteen
highest-grossing films of 2009 were science fiction films, and that last
year was the first year that the domestic box office topped $10 billion
in grosses. So it’s a reasonably good bet that even as we chat about
this Hollywood is developing a raft of scifi-flavored,
effects-laden action blockbusters to ready for release two or three
years down the line (hey, these things take time).

So I wouldn’t
worry too much about science fiction films going the way of the
western, at least not the science fiction films of the sort that movie
studios use as tent poles to prop up their summer season.

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