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.

Brad Willis

Brad Willis is a writer based in Greenville, South Carolina. Willis spent a decade as an award-winning broadcast journalist. He has worked as a freelance writer, columnist, and professional blogger since 2005. He has also served as a commentator and guest on a wide variety of television, radio, and internet shows.

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9 Responses

  1. G-Rob says:

    Cheap bastard

  2. Astin says:

    While I don’t have a family to pay for, I usually keep my individual movie cost to under $10.

    CAA (Canadian version of AAA) has a movie ticket deal for members. Works out to around $8 for a ticket, but you have to buy the passes at a CAA office ahead of time. I buy packs of 15 and they’re usually good for a couple years.

    I rarely buy concessions. Sometimes a bottle of water ($3+ ?? nuts), and if I’m really craving it, some candy. The popcorn is too greasy and salty.

    Sometimes I’ll sneak in snacks from outside, but my favourite is the AMC down the road from me. It’s in a new megaplex mall-thing, and they ALLOW you to bring in outside food. So a quick trip to the gelateria downstairs is usually in order for a movie. In fact, I’ll be doing that tonight.

    For me, the big screen and big sound is enough to draw me in. But even then, I only go see movies that are worth it. F/X heavy films need a big screen and 17 speakers. Comedies are always better with a packed house. And the ones where a great cinematographer is involved usually warrant that screen as well. The snacks and concessions are a waste of money as far as I’m concerned.

  3. Matt Showell says:

    Hotel for Dogs is the greatest movie ever made.

  4. AgSweep says:

    Duh, just sent an e-mail to this effect. I too have netflix. I got a Roku, http://www.roku.com around xmas ($99). It takes all of your netflix instant viewing options to your TV through your wireless network (you can hard wire it too). (You can also do this a couple of other ways that are listed on the netflix site). Roku has now added the Amazon stuff so you can insta buy or rent. (Without the Netflix subscription) If you do not have a set up like this you should. I tried to watch a movie last night on TV but was so frustrated by the all the commericals that I stopped. I really liked Netflix before but am now addicted. Pretty much the only thing we watch on TV now is sports and the occasional CSI.

  5. AgSweep says:

    Our local Regal Theatre has a free members club. If you have a card you get free popcorn on Tuesdays. Plus your points accumulate so that one time you get free popcorn, then another free pop and then another free candy and finally a free ticket. This along with going to matinees keeps the price down.

  6. marty says:

    If you have an x-box it will do the same thing as g-rob’s roku.

  7. Kym says:

    We have a 2nd run dollar movie theatre in town. The floor is sticky and a lot of seats worse for wear, but it adequately feeds the need for a movie going event when the pocket has more lint than loose change in it.

    At the high end we have the Warren – complete with food, alcohol & heated seats in the balcony screens – for a premium (food & alcohol extra). A matinee can set a person back $14 – $25.

    I’d be curious to know what folks think about the morality or immorality of sneaking in your own popcorn & goodies. Back in the 80s I knew folks (not mentioning names) who’d pack a veritable picnic (wine, cheese, gourmet popcorn) and sneak it past the movie police. Anyone do that these days?

  8. Jim The Knife says:

    I’ve had Netflix for 5 years plus now and yet I go to the movies about twice a month, depending on what’s out there.
    I buy the “Kids Pack” or “Kids Special”- you get a small soft drink, a small amount of popcorn, and some gummy bears
    which I throw away. It’s enough to keep you busy until the movie starts and it’s only $4.50 or so.

    PS: Taking your own goodies into the theatre is not against the law…..AND….. there are no signs prohibiting
    you from doing that. So, go for it!

  9. Drizztdj says:

    I love the dollar theater around here. Granted the popcorn/candy gouge is still in play, but you’re getting to see a relatively new movie for the same price as a Redbox/Netflix rental and get the “event” of watching the movie somewhere other then the couch.