My first movie memory comes at age six and half. It was the summer of 1980 and I was in the backseat of my dad’s black mid-70s Monte Carlo. I don’t know if the drive-ins were cheaper that theaters or simply my parents’ favorite method of movie watching. All I know is that it was an event. The popcorn, the screaming, the soda, the blood, the candy, and the gore. I loved every second of it and still carry it as one of my favorite memories of childhood. Friday the 13th may not have been a kid’s movie, but it was one of my favorites for years.
We saw Prom Night a few months later. The next year it was My Bloody Valentine. The year was The Thing. Going to the drive-in with my parents was part of a simpler time. I don’t know how much it cost, but it couldn’t have been too much. My parents didn’t have much money then and movies were almost certainly a luxury.
I now have a four and half year old son of my own and he already shares my love for movies. He’s not seeing any horror flicks yet (although he really does like Gremlins), but he will go to the movies anytime I want to go. When a new animated film comes out, we are there within a week of the opening.
My wife and I took the boy to see Coraline the other day. It was a pretty damned good film and I enjoyed it beginning to end. By the time I walked out of the theater, though, I was $42 lighter in the pocket. Tickets for two adults and one child (even for a matinee) came to more than $20. After a couple drinks, a small popcorn, and a bag of candy, I had eclipsed the $40 mark.
Now, I can afford $40 once or twice a month to go to a movie, but I feel pretty sure there are a lot of people out there who can’t swing that kind of cash. Even in 1980 dollars, this kind of pricing probably would’ve cost my parents $15-$17, which at the time was no small amount of money.
Of course, the solution is clear. Stop buying snacks at the movies. But then, seriously, apart from watching it on a huge screen, what is the point? Going to the movies, at least for me, is about an event. It’s about doing something as a family. It’s is about getting the tickets, getting the popcorn, finding the seats, and settling in for some time together. It’s not about dropping a ton of dough on something I can literally do for a few pennies at home.
A recent study from Stanford and UCSC found in a review of popcorn prices that theaters are gouging on popcorn in an attempt make up for the price it costs them to run a movie. This is all well and good. Keep the ticket prices lower so people can afford to get in. Concessions account for 40% of theater chains profits. The logic of it all it sort of what gets in my craw (primarily, because I am guilty of making the logic correct).
“The logic is that if they’re willing to pay, say, $10 for a bad movie, they would be willing to pay even more for a good movie,” said Wesley Hartmann, associate professor of marketing at the Graduate School of Business. “This is underscored by the fact that they do pay more, even for a bad movie, as is seen in their concession buying. So for the times they’re in the theater seeing good or popular movies, they’re actually getting more quality than they would have needed to show up. That means that, essentially, you could have charged them a higher price for the ticket.”
So, essentially, what were saying here is that we are paying tons of money to go see largely sub par movies so the theaters can afford to keep showing sub par movies. Now, I’m not talking about Coraline. I enjoyed that movie immensely, but let’s be honest. It’s an exception and an exception by a long shot. I mean, hell, I paid the same amount to see the Underdog live action film. I am part of the problem.
Add to all of this the fact I am a one-year Netflix devotee, and I am really conflicted. I pay less than $15 a month for unlimited Netflix movies. I can watch those with homemade popcorn on either of my two HDTVs. Compare that to $42 to go see Hotel For Dogs and you’ll understand why I’m not sure how to proceed.
I want my son to enjoy the same things about the movies that I do. I want to support the people who make good films. I have friends in just about every facet of the industry. They work hard and deserve to get paid. That said, I don’t want to support the part of the industry that has to gouge people to put out really terrible cinema.
I have several ideas on how to get around it, but I’d be curious to know what you and/or your family is doing.
Oh, and happy birthday to my friend and film guru Absinthe who would almost certainly say I’m being cheap and should get over myself.