Will 4D Ever Catch On?

San Andreas Still - H 2015
Courtesy of Warner Bros.

San Andreas Still - H 2015

At CineEurope, attendee will debate the merits of movie theaters filed with shaking seats, fog machines and strange smells.

This story first appeared in the June 26 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

Amid the questionable flavors of popcorn (Parmesan garlic, yum!) and advanced slushy-makers being paraded on the trade-show floor at this year's CineEurope, one of the biggest conversations among exhibitors hoping to gather more money from moviegoers likely will center on 4D.

With about 530 screens worldwide now having installed the technology -- which ranges from moving seats to sensory experiences including wind, fog and even scents -- 4D still is very much in the "niche" arena but quickly has become a growing force.

"We'd estimate that the market has approximately doubled over the past 18 months," says Charlotte Jones, principal cinema analyst at IHS Technology, whose cinema director, David Hancock, is moderating a panel at CineEurope on cinemas in the "experience economy" and the move toward premium.

For exhibitors, the question is whether the significant investment needed for 4D is worthwhile for their bottom line.

Seoul, South Korea-based CJ 4Dplex -- one of three major 4D firms, but the only one that offers the more "extreme" weather experiences known as 4DX -- so far has one U.S. installation, at the Regal L.A. Live Stadium 14. New figures show that since it opened in June 2014, the 104-seat 4DX auditorium has seen an 88 percent attendance increase over the previous year and a 300 percent revenue hike. San Andreas was a recent standout, showing double the results of regular formats in its first week of 4DX.

CJ 4Dplex CEO Byung Hwan Choi says that disaster movies like San Andreas have "traditionally done very well in 4DX." However, he points to Furious 7 (which featured wind jets to mimic the sensation of speed) as the first film to pass 1 million 4DX admissions worldwide. The company recently debuted rainstorm and snow effects at CinemaCon in Las Vegas, but Choi admits that CJ 4Dplex still is facing challenges in the U.S., where theater owners are "primarily interested in short-term profitability over technology investment."