3D movies are still something of a novelty. Often reserved for blockbusters and big-budget films, the 3D treatment in movies is intended to add another layer to the movie-going experience — to open up a world and add depth to the story unfolding on-screen.
3D movies (and their requisite television screens) aren’t huge in home markets, but they’re a popular choice for those who don’t mind shelling out a few extra bucks for a pair of glasses at the theater. So what makes a great 3D film, and which ones are the best?
First, its worth noting that not all 3D movies are created equal. Many the most popular 3D films were filmed in 2D and later rendered in 3D for the theater. Others, however, were filmed with special camera systems and designed around the intention of creating an impressive 3D experience.
Across the board, though, the best 3D films are the ones that deal in worlds and stories that lend themselves to big, impressive, three-dimensional space. That is, usually they’re big films with a lot going on. As much as depth and realism are appreciated in film, watching conversations, conflict and development take place in a real-world adjacent setting with real-world adjacent problems in 3D isn’t terribly interesting. The best 3D films are those that are big, loud, beautiful and fantastic. Usually they’re heavy on action, they’re built around stunning, surreal scenes, and theres a good chance they have an explosion or two, too.
Big films look even better bigger, and here are some of the best big films that put the capabilities of stereoscopic cinema to good use.
1. The Martian
Mark Watney’s escape from Mars makes for a thrilling (and surprisingly scientifically sound) ride, and watching Watney traverse the unforgiving alien terrain of Mars in 3D only heightens the experience. Filmed on Red Epic Dragon cameras and using 3ality 3D filming rigs, The Martian was intended to be experienced in 3D.
Filmed on the Fusion Camera System developed by director James Cameron and Vince Pace, Avatar was also created around the 3D experience. The world of Avatar is beautiful, breathtaking, and alien in its own right, which is a big part of why it looks so great in an extra dimension.
Hugo is something of a love letter to early cinema, and as Popular Mechanics points out, Scorsese’s love of 3D filmmaking techniques of a bygone era makes the 3D experience in Hugo something unique and nuanced. It’s not an explosion-heavy action film, but like Avatar, it uses the Fusion System.
4. Star Wars: The Force Awakens
Okay, Star Wars: The Force Awakens was filmed in 2D and later converted to 3D for the theater-going experience, so it wasn’t created natively around 3D. But it’s still an impressive 3D event, with plenty of explosions, firefights and literal otherworldly beauty.
Like Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Gravity wasn’t shot on 3D systems, but converted to 3D for the theater. That said, it’s a damn fine conversion, and one that provides a pretty stunning experience despite the fact that its not “real 3D.”
6. Big Hero 6
The beloved story of Hiro and Baymax in San Fransokyo, Big Hero 6 is another film that was built from the ground up with 3D in mind. It’s got pop out elements, plenty of depth and a big, impressive world that opens up in the 3D experience.
7. Mad Max: Fury Road
Another film that shot in 2D and later converted, Mad Max: Fury Road still fits the bill for a big, impressive film that translates well to the third dimension. Seeing Mad Max in 3D only intensifies the hot, dusty, sweaty feeling of being right in the thick of its vast dystopian landscape.
Shot in stereoscopic 3D, ParaNorman captures an incredible amount of depth and spatial context, and the unique stop-motion animation methods make it a standout experience.
9. The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
Like The Martian, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug was filmed using 3ality filming rigs. Though reviews on the film itself were mixed, the film does succeed in bringing Middle Earth to life in a big, beautiful way, and it was created with the intention of being stunning in 3D.
10. The Great Gatsby
Okay, the film itself wasn’t great, but it was pretty. If you’re willing to forgo a decent plot in the name of seeing some really beautiful roaring 20’s art deco set pieces, you could do worse that Gatsby. It was filmed using the same rig employed by The Martian and The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug.
11. Guardians of the Galaxy
Guardians of the Galaxy wasn’t filmed in 3D either, but it is a big impressive film. The same is true of most Marvel films, but there’s something to be said for the colorful, fun, otherworldly and lighthearted nature of Guardians that makes it a world we want to step into.