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3D entertainment is a gimmick, they say. And you know what? For the most part, I agree: there are too many movies where the 3D adds nothing to the overall experience. However, when done properly, 3D has the potential to blow you away.

To 3D or Not to 3D

Directors and movie-goers alike tend to lambaste 3D technology. One notable example is Christopher Nolan, who believes that stereoscopic imaging is detrimental to the movie-going experience:

It’s well suited to video games and other immersive technologies Oculus Rift VR Simulations You Have To See To Believe Oculus Rift VR Simulations You Have To See To Believe You've seen the Oculus Rift, but you haven't seen some of the insane uses it's been put to. Check out these awesome Oculus Rift demos from around the world. Read More , but if you’re looking for an audience experience, stereoscopic is hard to embrace. I prefer the big canvas, looking up at an enormous screen and at an image that feels larger than life. When you treat that stereoscopically, and we’ve tried a lot of tests, you shrink the size so the image becomes a much smaller window in front of you.

— Via ScreenRant

That being said, there are cases where 3D actually enhanced the final result. These examples are few and far between so they can be hard to find, but they do exist. So let’s take a look at some of the best 3D movies and see what they did right.

For the best experience possible, you should watch 3D movies in theaters Cinema Is Dying: How Movie Theaters Can Ensure Their Survival Cinema Is Dying: How Movie Theaters Can Ensure Their Survival Movie theaters need to offer more than just a way of watching the latest films. They need to stop competing on "convenience" and start focusing on "experience." Here's how. Read More . Obviously that’s not possible with the movies listed below, but that doesn’t mean you’re out of luck. If you have something like a 3D smart TV Smart TV 3D: Is It All It's Cracked Up to Be? Smart TV 3D: Is It All It's Cracked Up to Be? If you're unfamiliar with smart TVs, now may be the time to catch up and see what you've been missing. With Smart TV 3D technology, you have even more options to consider. Read More , these films can be similarly enjoyable.

Avatar (2009)

Here’s the movie that set the 3D trend on fire. Prior to Avatar, the “3D is a gimmick” mentality was a near-universal opinion. But after Avatar? Well, I’ll let the chart below — taken from this Reddit thread — speak for itself:

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What was it about this film that made everyone go nuts? I’d have to point to the gorgeous environments. It’s one thing to be introduced to a fascinating new world, but it’s another thing entirely to feel like you’re actually moving through that world and even living in it.

And seeing how Avatar successfully transported us to the world of Pandora, the 3D added just enough depth to push us over the edge into total immersion. It’s a perfect example of a film where you really miss out on the world-building by watching in 2D.

Tron: Legacy (2010)

TRON: Legacy, the sequel to the 1982 cult classic was a marvel, raking in over $170 million in gross sales. Older fans had their fingers crossed in hopes that it wouldn’t destroy the franchise, while younger kids had no idea what to expect. Turns out, it was a pleasant surprise.

There are so many elements that make TRON: Legacy an enjoyable watch. The soundtrack by Daft Punk meshes perfectly with the cyber setting, while the CGI dances the line between stylish and overdone with finesse.

But really, the visual effects are so entrancing that you have to see it in 3D. Yes, the movie works fine without it, but if you love eye candy then you owe it to yourself to give this one a go.

Life of Pi (2012)

Life of Pi is a prime example of a novel-turned-movie being done successfully. The beautiful story is coupled with mesmerizing visual effects and a wonderful score, resulting in an emotional ride from start to finish. Even without 3D, it’s considered a winner.

With Life of Pi, director Ang Lee proved that 3D doesn’t have to be over-the-top or visually explosive in order to have an impact on the audience. It’s subtle, reserved, but you know it’s there while watching. There’s a reason why this movie won four Academy Awards.

The Great Gatsby (2013)

Here’s another novel-turned-movie, except this time we’re playing with one of the great classics of American literature. As evident by the other movies on this list, 3D is typically reserved for high-action films with a lot of grand set pieces.

So when The Great Gatsby‘s release date was postponed in order to accommodate 3D, people wondered whether a delicate story like this would even benefit from the technology. It would go on to win Outstanding Live Action 3D Feature Film at the International 3D Society’s Creative Arts Awards.

The Great Gatsby is just a visual treat. That’s really what it comes down to. That, and the copious amounts of close-up shots that are made much more striking with the depth offered by 3D.

Gravity (2013)

Gravity is the first movie since Avatar that has become synonymous with 3D success. It’s not that there weren’t any 3D successes between the two, but Gravity‘s execution of it was so good that it really can’t be divorced from it. Without 3D, this movie suffers greatly.

Like Avatar, Gravity takes us to “another world” that we simply can’t experience on Earth, and the cinematography was specifically designed to transport us there. Not only do we get to watch these people float through space, we get to be right there with them.

While the film doesn’t break any new ground in terms of story (it’s a bit predictable at parts), many viewers — even ones who typically hate 3D gimmickry — found that Gravity in 3D was well worth the extra cost.

Pacific Rim (2013)

If you haven’t seen Pacific Rim yet, find a way to watch it — and when you do, make sure you see it in 3D. In fact, even if you’ve already seen it, consider revisiting this film with a pair of stereoscopic glasses. You won’t regret it.

This movie was meant for 3D. There are precious few films out there that combine high concept with high action to this degree, and amongst the ones that try, none of them pull it off quite as well as Pacific Rim does.

The larger-than-life monsters and robots A Timeline Of The Robots In Films A Timeline Of The Robots In Films Read More are infinitely cooler when seen in 3D. It’s like an amusement park ride, that’s how exciting it is. Just make sure you watch it on as large a screen as possible to get the full effect.

Godzilla (2014)

Like Pacific Rim, Godzilla involves a handful of monstrous terrors that wreak havoc on human populations. But unlike the former, Godzilla‘s usage of 3D is not so in-your-face. It’s more subdued, more intricate, and, in a sense, “smarter”.

Sure, there are moments where the 3D enhances the gargantuan qualities of the monstrosities on screen, but the real beauty of Godzilla‘s 3D is in the way it adds depth and complexity to the cinematography. The world feels more alive as a result.

As for everything else, the film is on par with most summer blockbusters: predictable story, shallow characters, and a big focus on the visceral rather than the intellectual. 3D definitely makes this one easier to swallow.

Even More 3D Content to Watch

These days, you’ll probably need a 3D smart TV 3D TVs: What They Are, How They Work, & What Can They Show In 3D? [MakeUseOf Explains] 3D TVs: What They Are, How They Work, & What Can They Show In 3D? [MakeUseOf Explains] If you’re in the market for a new TV, chances are it’s going to be 3D - not because you particularly want one that can do 3D, but simply becuase 3DTVs typically have better displays... Read More to watch these films that way. If you’re thinking about buying one, we don’t recommend spending too much money, but it can be useful if you’re a true fan of 3D.

If you have one already, here are a few free ways to get 3D content 5 Ways To Get 3D Content For Your New 3DTV 5 Ways To Get 3D Content For Your New 3DTV So, lucky you - you got a new 3DTV for Christmas, eh? May I be the first to say, congratulations - you obviously understand that 3D is most certainly not a passing fad, and at... Read More for your 3D TV. If none of those work for you, you should at least be able to watch 3D content on YouTube How To Find And Watch YouTube 3D content How To Find And Watch YouTube 3D content Love it or hate it, 3D is here to stay. It’s a natural progression of visual displays, and I’m kind of bored of hearing it’s a fad. So let’s take this opportunity to look at... Read More .

Have you seen any 3D movies that blew you away? Or are you completely against the idea? Do 3D films have a future or will they die soon? Please share your thoughts with us in the comments below!

Image Credits: Red/Blue Eyes via Melissa Dooley

  1. Will
    April 28, 2016 at 6:56 pm

    Hugo... That's one I'd definitely recommend in 3D

  2. RAS
    May 15, 2015 at 10:05 pm

    Many movies are created/released with 3D only with IMAX. Now, I love IMAX for movies, its great for the impact and feeling of being surrounded by the movie, but when I put on the 3D glasses I lose a lot of that overwhelming sense of size. So I will almost never watch an IMAX 3D movie, because it seems like a waste. (I will admit that part of the problem may be that I wear glasses, and the 3D viewers on top of my regular glasses diminishes the field of view more than it does for people without glasses...)

    • Joel Lee
      June 10, 2015 at 3:25 am

      Interesting, I've never had problems with 3D, but maybe that's because I don't wear glasses. Now you've got me curious if there's a significant difference between wearers and non-wearers!

  3. kt
    May 15, 2015 at 2:34 pm

    Pacific Rim was cool in 3-d. World War Z wasn't much better in 3-d. My fave was My Bloody Valentine in 3-d. Horror gains a little more shock value from it.

    • Joel Lee
      June 10, 2015 at 3:26 am

      Yeah, I was disappointed by World War Z and I don't think it'd be any better in 3D. Good point about horror movies, I hadn't thought about that. (I wouldn't know since I try not to watch them...)

  4. Tim
    May 15, 2015 at 1:22 pm

    I've just watched Big Hero 6 in 3D, which looks incredible. And I'd throw Despicable Me in their too (and perhaps Monsters vs Aliens). It's not that these films suffer when viewed in 2D, but the 3D experience really is enjoyable.

    • Tim
      May 15, 2015 at 1:23 pm

      *there, even. Autocorrect fail!

    • Joel Lee
      June 10, 2015 at 3:27 am

      I've been teetering on whether or not I want to watch Big Hero 6, but if it really is incredible in 3D, I might have to find a way to watch it like that. It's been a while since I've seen an enjoyable animated film. :)

  5. Scott Hedrick
    May 15, 2015 at 12:58 pm

    I watched Green Lantern in 3D. I can't say that it improved the movie- which needed more origin time and a different villain, Ryan Reynolds did fine with the nothing he had to work with- but the credit sequence was fantastic. I walked around to see it from different angles and the way objects moved made them seem physical.

    • Joel Lee
      June 10, 2015 at 3:28 am

      Haha, hilarious that the best part of the movie was the credits. I agree, 3D cannot save a crappy movie. It can only enhance one that's already good on its own.

  6. BPD
    May 15, 2015 at 12:04 pm

    Pacific Rim is one of my favorite movies regardless of the number of dimensions you see it in....

  7. Daniel
    May 15, 2015 at 11:33 am

    and I also agree about the wizard of oz....

  8. Daniel
    May 15, 2015 at 11:32 am

    As an owner of many 3D titles, most of which are disney (my kids), I can't belive i,Robot didn't get any love. It is fantastic to watch on 3D.

    • Joel Lee
      June 10, 2015 at 3:28 am

      Wow, I didn't know I, Robot was available in 3D. I remember liking it when I saw it (back when it debuted), so maybe I'll see if I can grab a 3D copy of it to watch.

  9. Cynzix
    May 15, 2015 at 5:26 am

    I've counted more than 6 layers of depht in the big party scene of The Great Gatsby. How fabulous is that? I saw it on my 3D TV connected to a computer for a full experience. It was overwhelming , the details, the vibrant colours, the photography. All together whit the great Fitzgerald's novel adaptation turns the movie into a masterpiece, in my humble opinion...

    • Joel Lee
      June 10, 2015 at 3:29 am

      It really was excellent, wasn't it? I'm jonesing to watch it again now.

  10. Estevote
    May 14, 2015 at 9:17 pm

    I agree with infmom about the Wizard of Oz...and Nvdia is the way to go!!

  11. OnlyGeek
    May 14, 2015 at 5:27 pm

    My all time favorite 3D movie is Coraline.
    The colors are vibrant and all the tiny details put into the shots are just jaw-dropping.
    Basically, it's the movie I recommend for those who only think of 3D as a lame gimmick to change their minds.

    • Joel Lee
      June 10, 2015 at 3:30 am

      I've heard good things about Coraline! Only reason I haven't seen it yet is because Tim Burton is a bit hit-or-miss for me. But if it's that good in 3D, I'll definitely put it on my "to watch" list.

  12. infmom
    May 14, 2015 at 5:25 pm

    If you have not seen The Wizard of Oz in 3D you have not seen it. I guarantee you'll be blown away.

  13. Henry
    May 14, 2015 at 4:57 pm

    I'd add Hugo 3D for live action movie, and Turbo for CG movie.

  14. dark passenger
    May 14, 2015 at 4:46 pm

    I have to agree with you that 3D can actually make a difference, since Avatar goes from a great spectacle to a total bore when you watch it in 2D (especially on a TV screen). The only other movie I've seen where 3D is absolutely essential is Werner Herzog's Cave of Forgotten Dreams. But most of the time I don't find 3D adds very much to a movie. Not to the point where it's worth paying extra at least.

    • Xoandre
      May 15, 2015 at 3:33 pm

      The most common use anymore for 3D is to up the ticket price and do as little to POST-CONVERT the film as possible.

      The general consensus from the "makers" of these "3D" films is they use the 3D to add "Depth" to the background.

      The gimmick of 3D is to both add depth AND have things leap off the screen at the audience.

      "Final Destination" (the last film) is a great example of them using both depth and height to the scene.

      "Avengers: Age of Ultron" is one of the worst 3D post-conversions I have ever seen. I took off my 3D glasses half-way through and saw that there was only a tiny bit of 3D effect on the film, and only rarely were there any images or characters with double-edges as you would see in truly well-done 3D films.

      I understand that the logistics and challenge of making something really "POP OUT" at the audience can be time-consuming and problematic for some.

      But if a film production is going to use $500 million to make a 3D movie, then they should definitely take that time to make it look right.

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