Home Movies Movie Lists

The Best and Worst 3D Movies

From ‘Life of Pi’ to ‘Glee: The 3D Concert Movie,’ which movies are worth the extra bucks – and which are not

Getty Images

3D movies are on fire right now, what with Life of Pi thrilling holiday audiences and The Great Gatsby and Oz: The Great and Powerful on the way. 3D had its first major push back in the 1950s as a Hollywood ploy to get people away from those new-fangled TV sets and back into theaters. Audiences bitched about wearing the glasses, but enjoyed watching the action jump out at them. These days, Hollywood is using 3D to get us away from watching movies on smart phones and iPads. The studios want us to feel the excitement of 3D on giant IMAX screens and 3D home theater units. The bother of the glasses and the bump in ticket prices doesn't matter if the 3D delivers. Here are 10 of the best 3D movies (and three of the worst).

By Peter Travers

Creature from the Black Lagoon

Everett Collection

The Best: #10, ‘Creature from the Black Lagoon’

Shot for chump change in black-and-white 3D in 1954, this cheapie creature feature looks like a million  today (you can get it on a 3D blu-ray). The acting is beyond wooden, but whoever the guy was in the creature suit put in his best effort to keep his rubber claws thrusting out of the screen and into our laps. It's a timeless piece of 3D horror bliss.

ghosts of the abyss

Everett Collections

The Best: #9, ‘Ghosts of the Abyss’

James Cameron developed the 3D technique he perfected with Avatar with this 2003 documentary that took 3D cameras two miles below the sea to find the ship he immortalized in 1997's Oscar-winning Titanic. Cameron had used footage of the real ship in his 1997 film, but the technology didn't exist at the time for cameras to go deep into the ship. The result is historic and eye-popping. How could it not be, since Cameron filmed the expedition in digital 3D for IMAX screens. The glasses are a small price to pay for the reach-out-and-touch experience. The ghost of the great ship that went down in 1912 will haunt your dreams.

Titanic

20th Century Fox

The Best: #8, ‘Titanic 3D’

Look, I'm the first to complain when 3D is applied like cheap makeup to a movie that isn't filmed in the process. But James Cameron's 2012 3D retrofit of his biggest hit after Avatar sure as hell converted me. It looks pretty damn dazzling. Cameron and 300 determined artists from Stereo D took 60 weeks and $18 million to get Titanic ship shape, and their artistry shows. Does Titanic look as astonishing as it might have if Cameron had shot in with 3D cameras? Probably not. But Titanic 3D is revelatory, not just for scale it brings to the maritime disaster of an unsinkable ship hitting an iceberg and going down, but for the hushed closeness it brings to the interplay between the characters. The 3D intensifies Titanic.

Dial M For Murder

Everett Collection

The Best: #7, ‘Dial M For Murder’

Back in 1954, cinema snobs sneered when suspense master Alfred Hitchcock stooped to using 3D to tell the story of a husband (Ray Milland) plotting the murder of his wife (Grace Kelly). The 3D backlash forced Hitchcock to let the movie go out in 2D. Only in the 1980s did audience get to see the artful 3D mischief Hitchcock was up to. Revel in the fun, especially in the scene with Princess Grace and the scissors. You've been warned.

frankenweenie

Everett Collections

The Best: #6, ‘Frankenweenie’

A stop-motion animated movie in black-and-white and 3D. Who'd think of that? Try Tim Burton, the undisputed wizard of odd who's been yearning to do a full-length feature of the live-action short he made in 1984 when he toiled as an animator at Disney. Burton's use of 3D lets you get lost in this  Frankenstein-inspired tale of a boy scientist named Victor (voiced by Charlie Tahan) who invents a machine to bring his dog, Sparky, back from the dead.

Toy Story 3

Disney Pixar

The Best: #5, ‘Toy Story 3’

Decked out in nifty 3D that's too good to be show-offy except in the opening action sequence, Toy Story 3 hits every button from laughter to tears and lifts you up on waves of visual dazzlement.  Cowboy Woody (again voiced by Tom Hanks) and astronaut Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen in playfully scrappy vocal form) are toys in crisis. Andy, the boy who gave these toys a home, is off to college. He's outgrown his playthings. This third chapter in the series wants to go darker and emotionally deeper than its predecessors. And the 3D provides an intimacy that takes you there.

Adventures of Tintin

WETA Digital Ltd.

The Best: #4, ‘The Adventures of Tintin’

This exhilarating 2011 gift from director Steven Spielberg is performance-capture, computer-animated 3D treasure hunt. Based on stories from the Belgian cartoonist Hergé, the movie concerns a young reporter from Brussels named Tintin (voiced by Jamie Bell), who can't stay out of trouble. Before you can say "Young Indy," Tintin and his scene-stealing dog, Snowy, are off chasing pirates. The movie comes at you in a 3D whoosh, hitting home for the kid in all of us who wants to bust out and run free.

Life of PI

Twentieth Century Fox

The Best: #3, ‘Life of PI’

Yann Martel's 2001 bestseller concerns an Indian boy trapped for 227 days at sea in a lifeboat with a starving Bengal tiger. Director Ang Lee takes on the daunting task of filming the unfilmable and his use of 3D to tell the story is electrifying. Lee uses 3D with the delicacy and lyricism of a poet. Check out the scene with the flying fish. You don't just watch this movie – thanks to 3D you live it.

Hugo

The Best: #2, ‘Hugo’

Martin Scorsese walks mean streets. So the idea of him directing a family film in 3D struck some as a joke. Hugo proves the joke is on them. In Scorsese's hands, 3D becomes an art. The filmmaker sweeps us headlong into the action as Hugo (Asa Butterfield), a 13-year-old orphan who lives behind the clock in a Paris train station in 1931, sneaks us into the station's secret corridors and inside the clock, with its jaw-dropping view of Paris. Here the technology serves the story and takes your breath away.

Avatar

WETA

The Best: #1, ‘Avatar’

James Cameron's immersive 2009 epic — the biggest box-office smash of all time — is a model for what 3D can do. It's 2154, and the Earth is dying. To survive we need a mineral called Unobtainium. To get it we travel to the alien moon of Pandora and abuse its natives. They are the blue-skinned, yellow-eyed, 10-foot tall Na'vi, who hug trees but hate on intrusive humans. Jake Sully (Sam Worthington), a crippled ex-marine on the Pandora mission, loses his heart to Neytiri (Zoe Saldana), a Na'vi princess. How does that happen? Dr.Grace Augustine (Sigourney Weaver ) and her scientific team have mixed human and Na'vi DNA to create avatars to infiltrate Pandora. The computerized creation that is Pandora overflows with beauty and terror (those banshees are a wonder). The last third of the movie, a battle between the Na'vi and their human destroyers, is a groundbreaking blend of digital and live-action. It's also 3D heaven.

glee

Adam Rose/FOX

The Worst: #3, ‘Glee: The 3D Concert Movie’

As close to hell on 3D earth as I have encountered in decades of reviewing movies. You are on your own.

Thor

Zade Rosenthal

The Worst: #2, ‘Thor’

Here's a movie you can use as a test to tell when a movie has been retrofitted for 3D. Take off your classes and everything looks the same. In a genuine 3D movie, you should see a blur when you take your glasses off.

Wrath of the Titans

Jay Maidment

The Worst: #1, ‘Wrath of the Titans’

This feeble followup to 2010's godawful Clash of the Titans sucketh the mighty big one. Perseus (Sam Worthington), the bastard son of a human mother and the god Zeus (Liam Neeson) has run off to a quiet fishing village to raise his son Helius (John Bell) away from the Z-man's infernal rumbling. Crap 3D and crappier FX – a middling Minotaur, Cyclops triplets, four-armed Makhai warriors and a flying Pegasus whose wings look ready to fall off – keep the the incompetence coming with incontinent glee. If you do pay pony up for this toxic spray of digital Styrofoam disguised as movie, see which crumbles first, your brain or Mt. Olympus.

In This Article: 3D

Show Comments