Things Weren’t Really That Different When I Was A Kid

Ever since I was a little girl, I loved going to the movies. The first film that I remember was ET at a now defunct drive-in. (Damn, I really miss those.) Then multiplexes were popping up everywhere. While we would pay for the ticket into the theater, I never understood why my parents thought it necessary to pop corn at home and stow it under  big winter coats or in my mother’s large purse. I always resented the fact that I couldn’t have that over-salted, yellow monstrosity in an overpriced bucket. We weren’t trying to be obnoxious, that stuff was just as expensive even back then.

We’d do the same with other snacks as well. Hitting the local RX Place next to the cinema, we’d hide cheap cans of soda and candy within our pockets only to get nervous as we approached the overzealous ticket warrior.

He only caught us a few times, when the smell of burned kernels wafted up through our clothes or my when my little brother asked when we could have the sweets we just bought at the “other place”.

I remember being mortified. But now, as an adult with small children, I realize something. (This will happen a lot when the child becomes the parent.) My mom and dad were pretty smart. They “skimped” on those luxuries because we couldn’t really afford them and by doing so, with the money we saved, we went to more movies. If we really liked a certain film, sometimes we got to see it a few times if all the bills were paid and food was in the refrigerator.

As I got older and got a job of my own, I continued to follow that unspoken advice borne out of necessity. Granted, there are times where I don’t bring anything on which to munch, but I have been known to hide those Red Vines purchased at a much lower price in an overly large winter coat, or in a purse.

And you know what I do with the money I save? I  go to more movies.

As theaters continue to squeeze dime and dollar out of already struggling families with rising ticket and concession costs, perhaps they could take a lesson from my parents. I do believe there will be a breaking point. Either when the public is sick of paying to watch commercials at the beginning of their movies, or they just stop going all together because it’s cost prohibitive.

As for the popcorn, I never did get used to the taste. Anytime I decide to splurge with either friends or my own children, I always end up with a stomach ache and a much lighter wallet.

But I’m sure that James Cameron and the studios appreciate the fact that I went to see Titanic seven times and have seen other films numerous times as well.

And no, for the last time, I don’t want a large for just 25 cents more.

53 thoughts on “Things Weren’t Really That Different When I Was A Kid

  1. Drive ins? You had drive ins? I had to be content with a bleached mammoth hide draped over a sheer cliff for a screen. Damn kids, grumble.

    On a serious note, the films themselves have not been a big part of the profit at your local cinemas. They make a lot of their money on the concessions. One fellow I know used to manage a local cinema and he summed job up as (1) sell tickets (2) sell popcorn (3) run the movie and (4) focus the projector if he had time.

  2. I am becoming spoiled with the large TV and Blue-ray. We went to see Iron Man II at the local theater, and I couldn’t get past how terrible the film looked. Perhaps the film quality is better at bigger theaters or the drive-in, but it is getting to the point where I would rather stay at home and wait to watch a film on Blue-Ray than pay the high price (especially concessions!) at a local movieplex.

  3. A friend who works at a university theatre defines a theater as where the primary profit is from food/drink and a theatre as where the primary profit is from tickets. I find that an interesting distinction.

  4. I do the same thing, out of a)frugality and b)necessity. The local movieplex doesn’t serve our Official Family Movie Snack. My dad started it– brought them along when he took me to see “Bedknobs and Broomsticks” for the first time.

    Dots. I don’t eat them any other time; but at the movies, I gotta have my Dots. And I’m not paying $2.00 for the $.69 box.

  5. I have worked at movie theaters for a while.
    The ticket prices are pretty much for the distribution company, and in turn the executives at whichever studios made that movie. The theaters never make any money from ticket sales, they make their money from the concessions. Popcorn is sold for 5000% profit. Soda’s are about the same. Candy is not much better.

  6. On a serious note, the films themselves have not been a big part of the profit at your local cinemas.

    To be more precise, the theaters usually don’t make any money off of the ticket sales (in fact, they often lose money), and haven’t for some time. Concessions are the only reason that they make any real profits (particularly items like popcorn and soft drinks, which are almost pure profit).

    As theaters continue to squeeze dime and dollar out of already struggling families with rising ticket and concession costs, perhaps they could take a lesson from my parents.

    Destroy their main source of profit? They’d just go out of business, and nobody would get to go.

    I’m not saying you or your parents were obligated to buy concessions when you see a movie at the theater. Just don’t that this is somehow a good thing for the theater, as well as your own convenience.

    But I’m sure that James Cameron and the studios appreciate the fact that I went to see Titanic seven times and have seen other films numerous times as well.

    The studios do. Not the theaters.

  7. 1.) Mark Evans – I was so hoping someone would bring up the concession prices vs. the profit point.

    As I understand and have experienced, larger movie theater chains are showing ads before the movie starts along with scripted “mediatisements”. It’s like watching TV without a remote. I wouldn’t watch that crap at home, but I’m pretty much paying to see it in a theater.

    I just find it interesting that despite the new added revenue of all those ads, that all prices continue to rise. Someone is making money somewhere.

    In my perfect Katetopia, you’d show advertisements and keep your concession prices low and more people would buy.

    But the reality is, profit is king until it’s slaughtered by a revolution.

    But apparently we haven’t reached that breaking point where, ticket price, concession price, and forced advertising is too much. As long as people get that limitless tub o’ lard for 25 cents more, they aren’t complaining too much. :)

  8. As I understand and have experienced, larger movie theater chains are showing ads before the movie starts along with scripted “mediatisements”. It’s like watching TV without a remote. I wouldn’t watch that crap at home, but I’m pretty much paying to see it in a theater.

    It’s not that much income for them. Particularly at the theater chains that offered reserved seating, so people don’t have to show up earlier to get the good seats.

    I just find it interesting that despite the new added revenue of all those ads, that all prices continue to rise. Someone is making money somewhere.

    Aside from rising costs and shrinking audiences, there’s inflation.

  9. Movies have priced my family right out of theaters. We can’t afford to go unless it’s a movie we must see. That happens once or twice a year.

    We just wait for the DVD now.

  10. Having come to the conclusion that more than 99% of movies are complete drek I just wait for them to come to TV.
    Every once in a while I will go to a theatre for something that looks really good. Avatar being the most recent movie that I went to see. It was Drek. Pretty drek, but drek none the less.

  11. I kinda do it the other way around.
    Most of the time the kids and I will gather around the computer with it’s giant monitor and watch kids’ movies borrowed from the library or from friends.
    Once or twice a year when I have saved up enough money we’ll “go all out” and have the total movie theater experience.

    The cost, though, really is prohibitive, especially to a single daddy with two kiddos. But we make do and manage to always have a good time! :)

  12. What really bugs me is how they price the concessions in a way that encourages unhealthy behaviour.

    Someone who orders a reasonably sized (ie, “small”) popcorn with no butter is charged essentially the same as someone who wants enough for five people and half a cup of butter.

    I don’t mind so much them using the concessions as their profit centre. As others have said, the greedy studios take all of the ticket price. I do mind being charged more for my popcorn because I made the healthy choice.

  13. If they sold beer at the theater, I wouldn’t have to smuggle it in. On second thought, it would be ballpark prices for crappy big american beer. Never mind.

  14. Jumping back in to respond to Kate@7 and Bret@8
    The theatre companies aren’t stupid. They have a very good idea how much they can charge and still fill seats. Consider that they charge enough that many complain about it but still go. Same goes for what they charge for popcorn and soda. That sounds like a pricing bullseye to me.
    They keep building new theatres so they must be making an accepable profit so I am not going to get down on someone who smuggles in snacks.

  15. 8.) Brett – I could be totally wrong, but from the research I did while doing this post, the ads and trailers are money that comes back to the theaters via the studios on a per person basis. So it’s a matter of getting more bodies in seats. How do you do that? By making it more affordable to go, IMO.

    I could slyly argue that my returning to the theater actually helps that particular establishment, especially if I’m seeing a movie that’s been in the theater for awhile.

    The studios tend to make all their money in the first few weeks of release, while if you have a movie like Titanic that was in the theater forever, it’s a boon to theater owners. I saw that movie seven times! ;)

    As for the inflation point, ticket prices plus concessions have risen far above the standard rate of inflation.

    An average teenager making minimum wage has to work four to five hours to watch a two hour movie and buy popcorn, soda and/or candy.

    A family of four is spending close to $80.00. That’s four hours of work to bring his/her family to the movies for someone with a median income of around $40,000.00!

    It’s far cheaper to buy a DVD player, a DVD, grab some microwave popcorn and sit around a TV for a family night in the long run.

    As for theaters with assigned seats — I’ve only really seen those in upper-middle and upper class areas. (But I could be totally wrong on that.)

    Most of the IMAX theaters also has assigned seating but you’re paying more for those tickets anyway.

  16. One of the advantages of getting old is the Wednesday senior discount day…My husband and I have seen more movies since we’re “old”..And I’m more forgiving of a movie that I paid $4.50 to see as opposed to $9.00. Let’s hear it for grey hair…

  17. Kate, you’re really making two arguments:

    1) Movie tickets are priced such that it’s hard for a family to justify movie trips (particularly if those involve popcorn) rather than waiting for the DVD.

    2) It’s OK to sneak food in because you might use the money you save to buy more tickets.

    The first argument makes sense, although there are many reasons this is so; the second does not hold water, made slyly or otherwise.

    As has been pointed out already, the theater doesn’t make any money if you see Titanic seven times instead of four if you’re not buying concessions. It is not more “affordable to go” if the theater has to raise prices, or cut showings, because its popcorn revenue drops. As for advertisements, the idea that studios honestly and fairly pass advertising revenue back to theaters is….well, I would be darned surprised if this were so.

    Also, the argument that it’s OK because you return the money to the theater baffles me. Either it’s OK to sneak in food, or it’s not. If I spend my would-have-been-popcorn money on cat toys instead of another ticket, does that make it no longer OK?

  18. I’m still stuck on remembering drive-ins…the first time I saw “Raiders of the Lost Ark” was at a drive-in. It was the perfect drive-in movie: lots of action, dialogue that wasn’t too subtle to translate, and a lot of fun.

    I’ve taken a slightly different path regarding movie snacks: I don’t snack. It’s not especially virtuous: Like Kate, I enjoy the taste of popcorn but always end up vaguely green after eating much of it, I don’t drink a lot of soda or eat much candy in any setting, I don’t like to drink much of anything because I don’t like having to get up during the film to go to the bathroom. So it’s both easier and cost-effective to indulge before or after I go, and just enjoy the movie while I’m there. Although i’ve been known to take a book in so that I can (a) get there early enough to get a good seat (no reserved seats in my local theaters either) while also being able to (b) ignore the ads.

    My family and I are also big fans of matinees. I can’t remember the last time we paid “full price” for a movie ticket. But even the matinees are starting to get more expensive….

  19. My usual cinema food is a not-from-concentrate fruit juice, mini poppadums and some 80%+ organic fairtrade chocolate. I would be surprised if you get those even in cinemas in the land of a thousand coffees.

    Microwave popcorn? The last I smuggled into a cinema was curry-flavoured, made by heating my own curry powder mixture in rice bran oil then decanting from the spices, popping the corn in a glass topped pan (absolutely necessary for the enjoyment) and finishing with sea salt.

    I went to see Micmacs and was so engrossed in the film I completely forgot I had food with me.

  20. Mythago,

    Actually, if a film stays in the theatres long enough for someone to see it multiple times, then the theatre will be getting some money from them. The way the pricing generally works, the theatres get to keep more of the ticket price, the longer the film’s been out. The first week they may get nothing, but after four or five weeks, they may be getting half.

    This is one of the reasons some small cinemas get their films really late – they actually get the chance to make make some money off them that way, even if not as many people come to see them.

    Doesn’t change your point, though.

  21. 17.) Mythago – Hm. I think you misunderstood me.

    My parents hid that popcorn in their coats because we couldn’t afford the concession prices even then. As a family, if we could afford it at a later date, we would rather spend that money on seeing more movies! :)

    I don’t think I necessarily make two different arguments. I am trying to speak to the larger point that nothing has really changed about going to the movies. It continues to be expensive, prohibitively so, as you’ve seen by some of the comments coming in.

    I also wouldn’t really charge that I’m advocating sneaking in food. It’s one example of what my family opted to do in order to keep going to the movies.

    I also use the post to point out that if both theaters and studios alike made going to the movies more affordable in all areas, I think my parents would have bought concessions just as I would and wouldn’t consider it a “splurge”.

    Also — the theater does make more money if I go see Titanic seven times. I stretched my visits to the theater out a few months. As I mentioned in my previous reply, according to research theaters DO make more money on films that have been around awhile. Movies that are popular stick around longer. Those are the movies that continue to be a boon to the theaters that continue to show them.

    As for what you do with your money, it’s definitely your choice. Cat toys are wonderful objects to keep you occupied if you so choose. :)

    I think you are making this a rather rigid argument when a lot of my post was tongue and cheek, a dash of remembrance and a bit of sadness that this great form of entertainment continues to be too pricey for even more people to fully enjoy.

  22. Miles@13: Ah, but you can get decent beer with your movies here (Portland, OR). One of our local brewpub chains — namely McMenamin’s — numbers among its outlets several which are either old movie theaters or large establishments in which they’ve put in movie-theater space…and these days, they’re showing either late first-run or early second-run features. So it’s quite possible to see a film and enjoy a local microbrew with your movie.

    Portland has also sprouted a handful of other indie theaters that cater to alternate market niches — and here, amazingly, Regal and Century/Cinemark don’t have a monopoly on first-run movies. There are a good handful of small locally owned theaters that are getting first-run films, including some of the big releases, side by side with the megaplexes.

    In addition to the McMenamin’s brewpub theaters and the local first-run operators, there are also a good handful of second-run houses and a couple of operators that are experimenting with non-traditional theater formats, involving some combination of high-end theater amenities and/or “real food”/restaurant-style concessions. So the Portland moviegoer has a much wider range of options than just the big chain megaplexes. And if the operators of the various indies are making those businesses work, I don’t see why their business models shouldn’t work elsewhere.

  23. I know a guy that used to be the regional rep for Paramount Pictures, and he went through the economics on this with me once. Before the Lucasfilm period studios charged 100% of the box-office the first week, 90% the second week, until it dropped to 50% where it stayed. (After Lucasfilm ushered in mega-blockbusters initial charges are supposed to have been as much as 150% for some films, but I’ve never gotten a specific film name or studio where this was done.) This meant that the only films where the theater or theater chains made money off the film instead of the concessions were those that did poorly the first week but built an audience gradually–Arthur is the classic example. The chain or theater needs to win a bid to carry the film which means in practice the studio/distributor sets a floor that can’t be beaten unless it’s something like the CE3K mess in Seattle where Spielberg stepped in personally. (Second run/revival is a flat fee.) The theater lives and dies off the concessions, and popcorn gives (pardon the pun) the biggest bang for the buck.

  24. Going to the movies used to be fun and spontaneous, now its like going to a concert, you have to plan ahead. Its expensive, the convenience of ordering a ticket online ahead of time can be a necessity at times, and movies don’t last in the theater very long. If I don’t see a movie within the first 2 weeks, I usually end up missing it and have to wait for the DVD or cable showing.

    Its pretty rare that I’ll get food or popcorn from the concession stand, I’ll either have dinner with friends before or after the showing. And I’m not a big fan of this new digital projection, its still dim or something, it doesn’t look right.

    The first movie I remember seeing in the theater was The Golden Voyage of Sinbad. Love those Ray Harryhousen flicks.

  25. There was a movie theatre in 1980s Hartford that showed indie films. Concession stand sold Orangina soda and Lindt Lindor chocolate bars. This was before gourmet chocolate was in every grocery store, and it definitely improved the movies. Ordinary concession stands are no temptation.

    but — on the same humorous note you displayed in your article — I’m not sure I can respect anyone who saw Titanic seven times. Did Scalzi know this before he invited you to be guest blogger? :)

  26. So it’s a matter of getting more bodies in seats. How do you do that? By making it more affordable to go, IMO.

    You still seem to be assuming that the revenues from selling ad space before the movies amounts to anything other than a trickle of money. Do you have any proof of this money being anything nearly enough to make it worthwhile for them to cut ticket and concession prices, their real source of income?

    A family of four is spending close to $80.00. That’s four hours of work to bring his/her family to the movies for someone with a median income of around $40,000.00!

    It’s far cheaper to buy a DVD player, a DVD, grab some microwave popcorn and sit around a TV for a family night in the long run.

    Then don’t see them in a theater, or go see them at a dollar theater. You’re not the movie theaters’ main demographic source of revenue anyways (that would be teenagers, who tend to buy popcorn and other concessions), unless you’re constantly taking your children to the movies.

    Actually, if a film stays in the theatres long enough for someone to see it multiple times, then the theatre will be getting some money from them. The way the pricing generally works, the theatres get to keep more of the ticket price, the longer the film’s been out.

    Not a lot, though, particularly if the movie has serious drop-off in audience size after the opening weekend. Since the largest audiences are usually the first couple of them, that makes the popcorn-eaters even more important.

    I think the above might not actually be the case anymore. I thought they had re-negotiated the contracts, so that the theaters now generally get a flat percentage instead of the sliding scale by weekend.

  27. In West Michigan we not only have some decent multiplexes, but we also have a four screen drive-in which does double features on each screen.

    Although they do make most of the money on first-run movies on the concessions, they do a lot of creative pricing, including 3 items for one flat price.

    They also took one multiplex in the chain and are using it for discount movies weeks after they opened.

    At least it’s options.

    Dr. Phil

  28. Interesting post. I stopped eating the food at theaters years ago, because it’s as unhealthy as can be and the popcorn doesn’t even taste good. But even though food prices at the movies aren’t an issue for me, I rarely go see movies in the theater anymore simply because I’m so tired of people talking during them. Oddly, the midnight premieres of the Harry Potter movies have some of the best-behaved audiences — hundreds of teens, all quiet because they’re so into the films! I’m going to miss those premieres after the last two movies are done.

    (BTW, I read this fed into my Livejournal, and I was really thrown off by the “Ever since I was a little girl” opening. The feed doesn’t indicate the post author and I didn’t see the guest blog notice until I clicked through to the actual “Whatever” site.)

  29. Today was $5 movie day at our local non-chain theater, where they also have a “one large popcorn & two medium sodas for $5″ deal WITH FREE REFILLS! I can’t normally afford movies, but on these days, I go. My son & I paid for two movies (“Scott Pilgrim” and “The Expendables”), and continued to get free refills throughout both movies – mainly soda, as much as he likes movie popcorn, we don’t need much more than one bucket between us.

    Knowing we’d be in the theater from just before lunch to just after dinner, I cooked up a frozen pizza, wrapped the individual pieces in plastic wrap, put them in a cooler, and left it in the car for a between-movie meal. We didn’t have as much time as we thought, so we buried the extra pieces under the popcorn & finished it in the theater.

    Your post reminded me of my mom filling up a big ice chest with cheap soda, pizza & other snacks to head to the drive-in … I was mortified as well, but you’re post is right on, things just don’t change all that much!

  30. 26.) keija – It’s okay, I don’t really respect myself either. That’s almost 22.6 hours of hearing “Jack” and “Rose” over and over again. I’ll never be able to get those hours back. I was a silly girl looking for a love story/disaster flick. ;)

    27.) Brett – Ten Things Movie Theaters Won’t Tell You

    Pay particular attention to the second point. It’s a bigger stream of revenue than I think a lot of people realize.

    “Then don’t see them in a theater, or go see them at a dollar theater. ”

    You are going to have to do a lot better than that if you want to continue the conversation. I’m looking for constructive discussion.

    While it’s fine to aim for a particular demographic, it’s absolutely silly to suggest that everyone else just pack up and go home. The goal here is suggest ways of fixing the problem, not pretending it doesn’t exist.

    29.) Amy Sisson – Hey Amy! I could see why that first line would be confusing. Haha! We do know about the Live Journal RSS issue, and I am looking to see if there is anything we can do about it. :)

  31. Elle #3: A theater shows movies. A theatre is where plays and other live performances are staged.

    Why can’t you just eat before you get there? Fill up the kids and herd them quickly past the concessions before they realize it, and you’re done. Works with all kids I have tried it on, honestly. They may wibble for a moment but the movie itself always wins out. I’ve had a few times where the movie has lost…but it only loses once per child. Popcorn ain’t nuthin’ if you can’t watch your movie.

  32. Let me say a word in favor of my local second-run theater (which also serves beer): Movies, almost new, $3. Evenings, too.
    If you want pizza, it’s ~$3. And a glass of beer is $4.25. (I think pitchers are ~$11. No minors allowed.)
    This means that if I want 1) a movie, 2) a slice, and 3) a beer, it’s just over $10. If I can live without the concessions, it’s $3.
    I’ve almost stopped going to first-run movies entirely. (And I now understand why, as a child, we never saw a movie immediately after it came out. My parents believed in second-run movies, too.)

  33. Since the major demographic of movie theaters is teenagers, I don’t find a night at the movies to be a nice date for my and I wife anymore. Since this movie season has been so horribly disappointing I’ve only seen a few. I usually try to go to the earliest shows after lunch to avoid craving snacks and crowds. And I think we fit into a similar category here. I can remember sneaking M&Ms into the movie theater in my socks (sealed bags of course) because a movie was a luxury. I still have my wife take bottled drinks in her purse when we do go.

  34. Either when the public is sick of paying to watch commercials at the beginning of their movies, . . .

    OMG, THIS! Thank you!

    And if it’s not a significant revenue stream, as has been argued above, then for God’s sake stop it!

    -o-

    We have a couple drive-ins within an hour or so drive of me. I need to go back soon.

    -o-

    This summer is when I’ve hit my tipping point, sadly. I’m a teacher and I don’t get paid during the summer. I save up all year to be able to get by. We made a couple of matinee trips with the kids this year, aided by gift certificates, and were just horrified at how much we spent. We haven’t been back. I’m not saying we’ll never see a movie in a theater again, but theater movies are moving into the territory of sporting events and concerts, things we’ll splurge on once in a great while but certainly not every week. :(

  35. Brendan @ 25

    I think your analogy to a concert is on point. It’s now a major event to get the family to the movies–to the point where we don’t go very much anymore. My wife and I have date nights (not frequently enough) but, when we do, we don’t go to see a movie.

    I’m wondering whether the business model is simply broken.

    If your model is based on getting people into seats, and then having those people buy concessions … and they stop going, then where are you?

  36. There’s one theater in my city that’s more like a restaurant-theater combination; instead of a concessions stand, you have a menu at your seat. You order before the movie starts; you get your food partway through the movie. The food’s a little pricier than what you might pay elsewhere, but not by much, and it’s generally very tasty. Salads, pizza, sandwiches, falafel (as well as popcorn, sodas, beer)….

    When I see a movie at that theater, I buy food. Anywhere else, I’ll go to a restaurant beforehand or afterward for a real meal and skip the concessions.

  37. Let me point specifically at one of the ventures I mentioned indirectly above: Living Room Theaters here in Portland. I have not actually been inside this theater as yet, but it seems to me that they’re doing two things right: they’ve designed relatively small theaters with an emphasis on comfort, and they’re offering a serious food menu with a range of choices. The food is not exactly cheap, but the prices appear reasonable for what’s offered (and the $6/$8 lunch deals look like a definite value).

    And while the majority of their offerings are clearly “grownup” movies (not all what we used to call “art house” films, but many in that neighborhood), note that they’re also offering two of the major summer toons in 3D.

    The premise I extract from the Living Room operation is that what’s missing from the theater market is specialization. There is, or ought to be, room for specialty theaters in the marketplace — and there are a lot of ways for theaters to specialize.

    In the present market, movie theaters have become a service business, so clearly the way for an independent to compete with the megaplexes is by providing superior services: better-designed screening rooms, greater variety and value in food service, or features catering to particular audiences (child care for parents with small children, high-end sound/SFX systems for big-screen explosives-heavy action films, semi-private or private box seats for small groups, etc.).

  38. Pay particular attention to the second point. It’s a bigger stream of revenue than I think a lot of people realize.

    It said nothing about absolute numbers in terms of revenue, never mind the percentage they make up of theater revenue. It only said that it’s a lot, and it’s been growing by 10-15% a year.

    You are going to have to do a lot better than that if you want to continue the conversation. I’m looking for constructive discussion.

    You were complaining about how expensive movies are for a family. I just pointed out that you don’t have to see them in theater, and that the theaters won’t really miss you that much if you don’t buy any concessions.

    The goal here is suggest ways of fixing the problem, not pretending it doesn’t exist.

    They’re trying (the article you cited mentions a couple of ways, and other commentators here have mentioned others), but there really aren’t a lot of options if they want to actually make money. It’s a lot harder for movies to draw audiences than it used to be, with the number of people regularly attending movies on weekends having dropped enormously over the past couple of decades as alternative entertainment options have exploded in quality and quantity. For example, in 1929, 95 million Americans went to the movies every week. That was down to about 30 million by 1998.

    The theaters have to focus on the audiences that they can still draw in en masse and make money from, and that means popcorn-eating teenagers first and foremost. Parents with children are second, followed by everyone else.

  39. My parents did the same thing. My dad said when he was younger he had a friend that worked the ticket counter and would let him in for free, but they had to buy their stuff there. The theatre made little money on the ticket, and most of it’s profit came from the snacks.

    Now, we see so few movies we get the popcorn and pop there. But then my wife really likes move theatre popcorn too, so she’s gotta have it anyway.

  40. High prices for concessions might not be bad –

    http://www.svd.se/nyheter/utrikes/miljardnota-for-fetma-i-usa_5135983.svd

    The article is in Swedish, but says that Colorado has 19,1% of the population morbidly obese and that’s the lowest number in the US.

    I rarely go to the movies, the last time I felt “I must see that” was probably The 2 Towers.

    For those who consider the consession prices too high, bear in mind all candy bars look the same, so even if the theater has a problem with you bringing in food (I don’t think theaters here do, but maybe you’re different?) they can’t tell where you bought it.

    Whether it’s moral or immoral to bring outside food to the theater, my opinion is that you’re paying for the ticket. If your act of not buying snacks means the theater doesn’t make any money it’s up to them to renegotiate with the studios or acknowledge that they are obsolete.

  41. I tend to avoid cinemas in favour of DVD rentals, because, well, they have horrid adverts and are almost always TOO LOUD.

    But I buy cinema food even less often than I buy cinema tickets. And I don’t sneak it in either. I just *don’t have any* (Popcorn and soda are some of my least favourite foods, if I buy concession food it’ll be icecream which is rather harder to sneak in…). If cinemas are consequently not making any money off me then that’s their fault for putting all the profit in the crappy food I don’t want to eat.

  42. Kate @22, I’m trying to make a logical argument and I do disagree with you; I’m not sure why that makes me “rigid”.

    Is it true that concessions are hella expensive? Sure. But your post very much comes across as a present-tense ‘bring your own food to save money’, with the rationalization that it’s OK because a) they’re pig-biting expensive! and b) hey, you can then buy more tickets so it’s not like you’re actually harming the theaters’ bottom line. It’s the second argument that makes no sense to me; I mean, it is a rationalization, and it’s predicated on the idea that I will definitely return all profit-the-theater-would-have-made-but-for-my-enormous-purse right back to the theater in the form of a ticket purchase.

    (My dad, too, snuck popcorn and treats into the theater. He also instructed me to lie about my age if it would get a cheaper ticket. I understand why he did this; he was a child of the Depression, and so the idea that there are right and wrong ways to save a nickel was a concept that is completely foreign to him.)

    So, other than making us eat overpriced and fattening popcorn, what options do the theaters have for making more money? Ticket prices, I guess, which we all agree are ludicrously high already and will just drive more people to wait for the DVD. Ads, which as noted in comments above people already hate. Better deals with the studios – I think they’re probably all over this one, but movie studios are not well known for fair play and smart long-term financial decisions that work out well for everybody else involved too.

    As Stephen @21 points out, probably the best way to help a theater without buying concessions is to wait until the movie’s been out for a while before going to see it, so they get a bigger share of your ticket dollars. Go see Titanic seven times, but don’t start going the first week.

    And when your kids are older tell them they’re free to buy as much popcorn as they like out of their own pockets. I find it impressive how quickly they can decide to wait until they get home. ;)

  43. This is an interesting conversation for me partly because I know people connected to movie theaters and …bookstores which have the same problem. If movies are expensive, the rise in the cost of books is very alarming. A hard cover by a new author is often $25 or $30 where I live. I am aware that sometimes I am choosing not to support my local independent author or favorite author by deciding to wait until it is available as a used bookstore (a reduced revenue stream) with the proviso that my favorite may not be there in a few years but I am not supporting financially.
    There are some reasons why drive-in’s aren’t here anymore…

  44. If the concession prices were lower at the chain theaters, I probably would indulge; as criminally high as they are, I never do. That works out well for me, since I shouldn’t be snacking anyway, but I wonder if more people buying at lower prices than do now would more or less equal current spending. I never carry in — those are the prices, that’s the policy, my choice whether I eat or not.

    I confess to losing control when I go to the not-so-local indie multi-screen theater, where my snack of choice is a slice of black satin layer cake and a cup of milk. Occasionally carrot cake, biscotti, good brownies, a rationally-sized bag of popcorn, tea, coffee…

    And veering slightly off-topic, could one of the people with experience on the business side of things venture an estimate: How much are ticket prices increased to pay for the people needed to clean up after the slobs who can’t exert themselves to carry their trash out to the bin? After an opening-weekend showing of a blockbuster there can be four or five people rushing to clean a single theater in time for the next show.

  45. When I take the family to the movies we go to the second run/discount theater. It’s priced at $2 a head, and the popcorn prices are actualy not too unreasonable.

    Yeah we see movies 3-4 months after everyone else, so what?

    Alternatively we go to the Drive-In, where they charge by the viehicle, not the person. Phoenix still has drive-ins. They broadcast the soundtrack on short range FM these days, so no more pulling up to the speaker like inthe old days. The one on the West side has 9 screens and the one on the East side has 6 screens. The West side (in Glendale) is nicer. Both locations still run double features.

  46. Drive-ins still exist I have two not far from where I live but haven’t been to either. You get to watch 2 movies for the price on one ticket!!

    I have also brought in my own food and drink to theater when seeing a movie or have just eaten before I go and don’t worry about a snack while watching.

  47. We have a couple of great second run theaters near us. $3 to get in and they serve beer and pizza (plus candy and popcorn). For my wife and I, we can get dinner at the movie theater for both of us for the cost of one ticket and a small popcorn at the megamovie house.

  48. I live in California, and unfortunately the ticket prices appear to be set by state. So even though I’m nowhere near SoCal, I get to pay SoCal prices— for theaters that were designed and built before I was born, with a comfort level to match.

    Colorado had cheaper tickets and better theaters, and Oregon had amazingly nice theaters. The upshot is that the experience went so far downhill that I haven’t been to a movie in the theater since I went to support Serenity.

    Incidentally, we have a very nicely restored Golden Age of Cinema theater nearby. They showed classic movies (with cartoon and serial!) when I was a kid— all of Charlie Chaplin, King Kong, Casablanca, and the like. When my kids get a little older, I’ll see what they’re showing and go there.

  49. I liked this blog post alot. I would like to note one thing. With movies now out on dvd with in 6 months of the first release, I rarely go to the movies. I only go see big effects movies because they look better in the theater. The last movie I went to was Avatar. Why go spen that money and time when I can get it on netflicks in 6 months? right now I am watching movies that came out 6 months ago?

    Another thing that is different. Good special effects have been around for a while now. It is hard to be impressed with the latest and greatest affect when its just a little better than the last one and every movie has them. They are basically commonplace. Avatar did not blow me away. I did not think the plot was that good. The effects were better than other films, but there are so many effects films out that this does not do it for me anymore.

  50. One other thing. The reason why drinks/food are so expensive is that virtually all of a theaters profits come from them and the commercials in the movies. They basicaly break even on ticket sales (at best). Typically big releases take 70% of the ticket gross the first 3 weeks of a release. Plus in order to get the good films, you have to take the stinkers that sell virtually no tickets.

    Due to this, they make all of their money off of food and drink.

  51. “Also — the theater does make more money if I go see Titanic seven times. I stretched my visits to the theater out a few months. As I mentioned in my previous reply, according to research theaters DO make more money on films that have been around awhile. Movies that are popular stick around longer. Those are the movies that continue to be a boon to the theaters that continue to show them. ”

    That is because theaters only keep 30% of the revenues for the first 3 weeks of a release. It goes up after that. I read that the Star Wars Prequels required theaters to give up 90% of the first 3 weeks of the release to George Lucas.

    They make virtually of their profit from concessions and advertising. As I said before, with movies avaiable on DVD with in 4-6 months and netflicks at $15/month or less, just wait… I almost never go to the movies.

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