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Movie buffs may be surprised to learn that there have been 3D movies for almost as long as there have been movies!

Turn of the Century

As moving pictures evolved in the early 1900s, 3D filmmaking was right there; in fact, the final movie filmed by the head of Thomas Edison’s studio was a montage of 3D scenes, such as a view of Niagara Falls. By the 1920s, 3D movies were being shown in theaters. They were short films, and audience members had to wear special glasses to view the effects.

Competing with Television

As televisions made their way into more and more homes by the 1950s, movie makers had to find ways to compete with the free and easy availability of TV programming. Creating effects that couldn’t be replicated at home was one way, and this included improved 3D technology.

Bwana Devil was released in 1952, and it was the first movie filmed with the new Natural Vision 3D process. It required two projectors to play, and audience members needed to wear special goggles. In 1953, House of Wax was released with 3D effects and stereophonic sound.

Unfortunately, the projection process, which required two carefully calibrated projectors, was prone to human error and the movies often appeared out of focus. The last major 3D movie of this era was Revenge of the Creature in 1955, although a few niche films continued to be produced. People being people, the X-rated The Stewardesses came out in 1980.

Present Day

There was a brief revival of 3D filmmaking in the 1980s, mostly centered around horror movies, and some Golden Age 3D movies were re-released. Shortly after that, 3D movies began appearing in special venues such as theme parks and IMAX giant-screen theaters. Museums also featured short, educational 3D films to match their current exhibits, such as James Cameron’s Ghosts of the Abyss.

In the early 21st century, some popular movies were “upconverted” with 3D technology, including Superman Returns and The Night Before Christmas. In 2009, Cameron released Avatar in 3D, which became the first movie to gross over $2 billion.

Currently, most studios releasing 3D movies are filming in 2D and then upconverting the footage. This is disappointing to both audiences and critics, and 3D movies are losing ground.