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Top 10 3D Movies So Far

by Eric Melin on March 24, 2009

in Top 10s

With this weekend’s release of Dreamworks’ 3D computer-animated feature “Monsters Vs. Aliens,” 2009 is officially the rebirth of 3D as a mainstream movie-going experience. It’s already the fourth major 3D film to debut in wide release this year (after “My Bloody Valentine 3D,” “Jonas Brothers: The 3D Concert Experience,” and “Coraline”) and tons more are on the way as the technology gets better and the number of digital screens continues to increase across the country. 3D receipts are already higher than the 2D releases of the same films, so even the audience is telling theaters they need to convert screens ASAP. With high-profile 3D releases like James Cameron’s “Avatar,” Robert Zemeckis’ “A Christmas Carol,” Pixar’s “Up,” “Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs,” and the horror flick “Final Destination: Death Trip 3D” in the pipeline for this year, the list I present here will likely look a lot different this time next year. So, before the explosion of new-fangled 3D hits theaters, take a look at the Top 10 3D Movies So Far. If you have an idea for your own Top 10, send it to

Note: As much as I wanted to include the terrible “Jaws 3-D” from 1983, a signature 3D movie for anyone of my generation because of the glass-shattering moment, I covered that (ironically) in my Top 10 Movie Series That Jumped the Shark and therefore decided not to include it here as well.

10. Robot Monster (1953)

robot monster 3dThe evil Ro-Man has entered the pop culture lexicon if not by name then at least by sight—the alien identified in the title of this schlocky B-movie from director Phil Tucker is basically a guy in a gorilla suit wearing a diving helmet with two bug-like antennae. “Robot Monster” looks more like a sponsored advertisement for a new product called the Billion Bubble Machine than a real movie, even giving the machine’s manufacturer credit in its opening titles. Ro-Man uses the bubbles to communicate to his superior while he finishes off the last survivors on Earth (only eight left—if only he hadn’t fallen in love with an Earth babe!) with his “calcinator” death ray!? If that wasn’t enough, the entire movie is revealed to be a dream from the babe’s little kid brother (who apparently wants a gorilla alien to fall in love with his sister, kidnap her, and rip her clothes)! Pervert. The movie was received so poorly that Tucker reportedly attempted suicide shortly after its release. Only true connoisseurs of terrible movies should watch this 3D mistake by itself, but luckily Mystery Science Theater 3000 spoofed it in a January 1990 episode.

captain eo michael jackson9. Captain EO (1986)

A 17-minute film that cost $30 million to make, stars Michael Jackson, was written by George Lucas, directed by Francis Ford Coppola, and was shown only at Disney theme parks from 1986-1998? Hell yes, I’m putting it on this list. As the narrated intro says, “A rag-tag band lead by the infamous Captain EO” travels the universe to present a gift to the evil Supreme Leader (Anjelica Huston) in an attempt to turn her into a personage of beaming goodness. The gift? A song called—ever so subtly—“We Are Here To Change the World.” The song transforms her guards into dancing maniacs, and they fall in step behind Jackson, “Thriller”-style. Smoke actually extended into the audience and a huge amount of 3D effects were used. The movie was being shown so long that it must have been jarring to try to merge the 90s “uber-plastic surgery” version of Jackson with the 1986 “just gettin’ started” version.

creature black lagoon8. Creature From the Black Lagoon (1954)

After the success of “House of Wax,” producer William Alland decided that his half-man/half-amphibian story that had been gestating for 10 years should be filmed in 3D. And so another famous Universal monster was born. Like Frankenstein’s monster before him, the “Gill-man” has a soft spot for humans, specifically a woman named Kay who is part of an expedition in a largely unexplored area of the Amazon Rainforest. The body count in “Creature From the Black Lagoon” is pretty high, with Gill-man’s human tendencies showing just enough for the audience to have sympathy for him even as he kidnaps poor Kay (who can’t even be a researcher; she’s merely a doctor’s girlfriend!) and takes her to his lair. Of course, a remake is scheduled. Some reports (including IMDb) have Brock Eisner (the man who brought us “Sahara”!), son of former Disney chief Michael Eisner, listed as director. Ugh.

u2 3d 20087. U2 3D (2008)

Sure, the Jonas Brothers and Miley Cyrus have recently released 3D concert films, but do you think I’d actually sit through those? This groundbreaking movie was shot with 18 3D cameras on U2’s 2006 tour in Mexico, Brazil, Chile, Argentina, and Australia. Including audience microphones, the total number of audio channels used was 110. The result, screened in 61 IMAX theaters throughout the country, is a completely immersive experience. (The movie played in 600+ non-IMAX theaters.) “U2 3D” really is the perfect marriage of surround sound and 3D visual technology, and although U2 is not my favorite band by a longshot, seeing this movie loud and up close in an IMAX theater is probably the best way to see them. (Who knows how much money you’d be paying to sit in the back row of a concert arena and watch them on the mondo-giant screens on either side of their stage?)

dial m for muder 1982 3d6. Dial M for Murder (1954)

An Alfred Hitchcock suspense movie (not his most famous of all time, despite what the poster says!) based on based on the stage play of the same title by English playwright Frederick Knott, “Dial M for Murder” stars Ray Milland, Grace Kelly, and Robert Cummins. The film, which details a man’s plot to kill his wealthy wife, was shot with the Natural Vision 3D camera rig also used on “House of Wax.” By the time of its release, however, the 3D craze of the early 50s was nearing its end. Most theaters that played the claustrophobic movie—shot mostly on one set— during its original run played it in flat 2D. In 1980, however, a San Francisco theater played a revival of “Dial M” in 3D and it did so well that Warner Bros. re-released the film in its 3D format in February 1982 during a brief 3D renaissance. Mainly, however, the film is known for being a taut thriller and not a huge 3D experience. The poster to the right is from that 1982 reissue. On DVD, the only version I have found is the 2D version.

flesh for frankenstein morrissey5. Flesh for Frankenstein (a.k.a. Andy Warhol’s Frankenstein) (1973)

Director Paul Morrissey’s gory and funny satire was shown originally in 3D in theaters (it was also originally rated X), which means that, had you seen it in theaters, a spear would have jumped right out of the screen at your eye, along with several graphic disembowelments. If you’re lucky, you may be able to catch a 3D screening at an art house or midnight showing, but these days, the movie is preserved on 2D DVD by the Criterion Collection. Udo Kier plays the mad Doctor (who’s married to his sister, by the way) and things go awry when he places the head of a would-be monk on his monster instead of the head of a lustful peasant. Unbridled sexuality seems to be the target of Morrissey’s parody, because all those who engage in that kind of behavior (which is almost everybody) meet a ridiculously bloody end.

house of wax 3d price4. House of Wax (1953)

Perhaps the zenith of the 3D film craze of the early 1950s, this remake of 1933’s “Mystery of the Wax Museum” starred Vincent Price as the disfigured wax sculptor and Charles Bronson as his deaf mute assistant Igor and itself led to a remake in 2005. An homage to one of the film’s most famous “comin’ atcha” scenes involving a paddleball appears very early on to greater effect in “Monsters Vs. Aliens,” but at least “House of Wax” far exceeds its computer-animated 3D companion in the thrilling plot department. Ironically, the director of “House of Wax”, André De Toth, couldn’t even see in 3D because he was blind in one eye. Maybe his concentrating on the story rather than just effects is why the movie succeeded on its own merit without the then-gimmicky technology.

1196194527-55547_full.jpg3. Beowulf (2007)

Roger Avary and Neil Gaiman had to take great liberties with the original epic poem of “Beowulf,” which may date back as far as the 8th century, in order to make an involving motion picture. Director Robert Zemeckis uses the best motion-capture technology available in 2007 to recreate human faces that look similar to actors Ray Winstone, Anthony Hopkins, and Angelina Jolie, but still ends up with a lot of unconvincing facial movements. What he and his technical staff succeed at, though, is making one fantastic 3D experience. The settings are completely immersive (especially on IMAX screens), the action pops, and the sound is huge. My original review, said “Don’t go see this if it’s not on a 3D screen,” and I stand by that. Since it’s hard to relate to any of the rubbery-faced characters, there is at least a certain one-of-a-kind thrill in feeling like you are in the middle of the mess hall when the monstrous beast Grendel starts throwing people around.

T2 3-D: Battle Across Time2. T2 3-D: Battle Across Time (1996)

This impressive James Cameron-directed “rideshow” is still playing at Universal Studios theme parks in Orlando, Hollywood, and Japan. Starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, Edward Furlong, Linda Hamilton, and Robert Patrick (as the menacing T-1000), “T2 3-D” immerses the audience via 3D and a wrap-round triptych of screens that literally surround the filmgoers. Actors portray their filmic counterparts, disappearing into and then riding out of the screens. When the entire theater is revealed to actually be a giant elevator and it begins descending into the bowels of the Earth, the game is on. Cameron and Co. up the ante by having moving robotic terminators surround the theater, as well as water sprinkling on the audience when glass is shattered. Cameron may not be the “king of the world” anymore, but he still remains the champion of extreme, show-oriented 3D, which makes me real excited for “Avatar” this winter.

coraline 3d 20091. Coraline (2009)

Henry Selick’s 3D stop-motion animation movie is based on Neil Gaiman’s novella, which makes it Gaiman’s second appearance on this list. “Coraline” has some typical jump-out-at-you moments, but not many. Instead, it relies on a slow, spooky build-up of suspense and culminates in a pretty scary transformation of space, arranging some perspectives of Coraline’s nightmare world for maximum uncomfortability. The goal was to envelop the audience, not merely trick them. Rather than using 3D imagery in a gimmicky way, Selick’s painstaking work on the set design and puppet animation pays off in one fantastical vision that is always in service of the story. It sets a great template that all future 3D computer animation films should use.

Eric is the Editor-in-Chief of and writes for The Pitch. He’s former President of the KCFCC, and drummer for The Dead Girls, Ultimate Fakebook, and Truck Stop Love . He is also Air Guitar World Champion Mean Melin. Eric goes to 11. Follow him at:

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{ 18 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Clark March 24, 2009 at 5:51 am

The problem with Coraline is the script. It dragged and explained the same things over and over again (I hated that cat that digested every information to the audience). In the end, Coraline was just plain boring.
3D-wise, I prefered Bolt. It had only a few gimmicky moments, the 3D was mainly used to give depth to the sceneries. And that movie is very enjoyable.
I’m now very excited to see Up, as I am a huge fan of Pixar. But, unfortunately, Disney decided to release it in Brazil only on September (!). Can you believe that? They don’t want to face the competition (aka Ice Age 3). S**t!


2 Josh March 24, 2009 at 8:03 am

i don’t think i would ever see beowolf again, even if it was so 3d i could touch angelina jolie —well maybe then, but otherwise never.


3 Randall March 24, 2009 at 8:29 am

I tend to forget that some of these had 3D releases–namely, Robot Monster, The Creature from the Black Lagoon, and Dial M For Murder. I thought U2 3D was amazing–it would be higher up on my list–and I agree with you on Coraline and Beowulf. I’d have to find room for SpongeBob SquarePants 4-D, too.


4 Dana March 24, 2009 at 9:23 am

Shoot, don’t forget the end of “Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare”, ha! I wish they could make it so these 3D releases were as good at home as they are in the theater, there’s a big loss in that transition.


5 Alan Rapp March 24, 2009 at 10:29 am

As long as you’ve got Creature From the Black Lagoon on there everything is good, but where’s the love for Starchaser: The Legend of Orin?


6 Eric Melin March 24, 2009 at 11:27 am

Wow. That’s hilarious. I suppose there is no end to the cheesiness that was put into 3D in the 50s and 80s. Funny thing is, I really think the new 3D movies will–like “Coraline”–use the technology for good (to enhance storytelling. Of course, as I say that, we already have a new offender, because “Monsters Vs. Aliens” didn’t do that at all.


7 Josh Man March 24, 2009 at 11:31 am

Beowulf was actually pretty terrible, the 3D was the only thing that even slightly redeemed it, but I can come up with tons of other 3D movies that were better. It shouldn’t have made the list.


8 Don Munsil March 24, 2009 at 6:45 pm

Not many people know this was shot in 3D, but Kiss Me Kate belongs on the list. It’s very hard to see it in 3D; there has to my knowledge never been a video transfer of it in any form of 3D. But they occasionally show it at film festivals in 3D, so the film elements exist.


9 Thomas Chapman March 25, 2009 at 12:59 am

Well I live in new zealand so coraline does not come out in till april 2 2009. I have seen hardly any of the movies on this list. But I do think Beowulf schould be kiked of the list and be replaced with The nightmare before christmas in 3d (2008). There are 2 movies that I quite liked but I saw them in 2d not 3d. They are.
Bolt (2009).
Journey to the centre of the earth (2008).


10 Dan March 25, 2009 at 6:27 am

I actually own Robot Monster in 3D. There was a special deal a decade or so ago in which you got three movies for $10 (on VHS, of course)… and like six sets of 3D glasses. The other movies were Cat Women of the Moon and another one whose name escapes me right now..


11 Ray 3D Zone March 26, 2009 at 9:15 am

You might be interested to know that a short 3D film called “Whatever Happened to Ro-Man?” written and directed by myself is being edited right now by my co-producer Tom Koester. Shot with a variety of dual HDV rigs, “Whatever Happened to Ro-Man?” features a SCSC 3D Reality TV interview with Ro-Man at his home in North Hollywood by Phyllis Tucker (Heidi Fielek) in which the hapless Ro-Man reveals facts about his frustrated acting career after “Robot Monster.” Ro-Man actually auditioned for “Forbidden Planet” at MGM and “Gorilla at Large” (in 3
D) at Fox but failed to get the roles. When an avid sci-fi collector named Bob Burns actually stole Ro-Man’s head, the actor lost his agent and missed out on reading for “Planet of the Apes” and its sequels as well as another 3D film called “A*P*E.” This 3D short will be an entry in the 6th Ever 3D Movie Contest sponsored by SCSC. Info at:


12 Jezibel June 2, 2009 at 9:33 am

What I wanna know is, why cant I reuse my glasses and not pay the special feature fee for every damn 3D movie that comes out?

That’s not very green! Plus, I’m single with no kids. Why the f*ck do I want 10 pairs of 3D glasses?


13 ALI June 12, 2009 at 11:25 am

can some one reply me which 3D glasses can i purchase. please also send pictures of that and price at


14 PPts July 21, 2009 at 6:27 pm

Whoever says coraline didn’t have a good script, just didn’t understand the themes of the movie…(thats what i think at least)…the movie is filled with symbolism and universal themes but avoids to rub them in the audience’s face…the genious of coraline’s story is in how subtle it is and it just doesn’t have the typical structure of a movie…i can see why it can be considered slow, but wherever it is slow there is a reason for it…It deserves to be one of the best 3d movies out there!…


15 Ron Wagner January 10, 2010 at 10:43 am

I thought Coraline was one of the best movies I have ever seen. It was the most beautiful of them all. Visually Stunning. The story was very captivating, as were the characters. I think the artwork was more impressive than Avatar or Up. Up had the best story overall though. Avatar was the best spectacle, and that is about all.


16 Tina January 28, 2010 at 3:50 am

Avatar was the best.


17 Brian March 4, 2010 at 12:18 am

Coraline was the best 3D movie that Ive seen. Like they siad it wasn’t all about in your face things it was used to make great shots. The the rain falling on the windows at the begining, amazing. But I’m excited to see Alice this weekend and see how Tim Burton does it. Nightmare in 3D was also a good one, but wasn’t made for it so Im sure this one will be outstanding.


18 nick November 13, 2010 at 10:54 am

the next 3D list should obviously include avatar but also pirahna 3D…the 3D was so cheesy and made the movie that much more fun and campy it actually made the movie better for me…so bad its good!


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