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Why Did Movie Tickets Get So Expensive?

Going to the movies to see the latest blockbuster was a tradition I knew well as a child. The whole family would pile into the car and go to either a theater or park in a drive-in lot and watch a double-feature.

When you went to the drive-in, there were intermissions during each movie, allowing people the luxury of a bathroom break and a chance to go to the snack bar, if they were looking for snacks. With $40, my six-member family was able to watch a couple of movies and still have enough money to eat after the show.

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Things have changed a great deal since my childhood in the 90s.

Why So Expensive?

Yes, $40 could feed and entertain an entire family a few decades ago. These days, you’re lucky if you can get away without spending $45 for just the movie tickets and the standard popcorn/soda combo on a date.

Back in 1978, a single movie ticket would only run a person $2.34. Inflation calculators would value that ticket in today’s economy as being worth $9, even though tickets were only $5.39 back in the year 2000.

Some might think the answer to tickets being more expensive is simply ‘greed.’ The true reason movie tickets have skyrocketed in price is thanks to the advancement in entertainment technology and the need for a company to pay its employees a fair living wage.

The best one-word explanation for the differing ticket prices: inflation.

The Different Prices

Consider what your local cities charge for movie tickets at their respective theaters. The location of the theater and the size of the place housing it factor into how much one would be charged. Where I live tickets are $10.15 for Adult Matinee and $9.65 for both Senior and Child tickets. That’s likely thanks to how small my region is. If I were to go to Los Angeles or New York City, the price for a single movie ticket would likely exceed $20, depending on the theater one was visiting.

Other Competitors

Thanks to streaming services like Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon, many small-time theaters have had to close their doors because they could not keep up. When you have your kitchen, bathroom, and telephone within a few steps of each other, why would you go to a theater when you could boot up the game console?

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In addition to the comfort factor, you’re not only saving on the excessive snack prices, but you can also pause the movie you’re watching if an important call comes through.

What Theaters Are Doing To Compete

Thanks to the variety of streaming services and technology available to consumers, theaters have had to step up their game and attract their old customers with new incentives. A handful of theaters have begun selling alcohol in what I assume in an effort to draw the “mature crowd.”

I can understand a theater spending the money for more comfortable reclining seats in auditoriums, but why alcohol?

“There’s all that anticipation and buildup, and it’s really important for theater owners and companies to make that experience as pleasurable as possible,” states Patrick Corcoran, VP of the National Association of Theatre Owners to Marketplace. “Because you’re offering a premium experience, expectations are for the latest and greatest technology. Audiences are willing to pay more for a particular experience.”

The only thing crazier than paying for $26.49 for a seat at the AMX Loews Lincoln Square in NYC is getting an identical space at the Odeon Luxe Leicester Square in the English city of London.

Alternative Methods

We know that the time for subscription services is now, so how do movie theaters flex their muscle and attract patrons? Some theaters have opted to participate in their own subscription service through something called Movie Heroes.

Through the company Movie Heroes, members pay a monthly subscription like any other ‘streaming service,’ where they pay to see as many movies as they like. Going to a theater as many times as you like? I can only imagine the money I’d save on not having to purchase tickets for such a high price.

The idea is for theaters to gain enough subscribers to stabilize their revenue stream and stay in the green.

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One California theater, the first customer of Movie Heroes, was able to increase their revenue to $1.5 million from $700,000. While the model does work, it seems to meld best with small-time theaters at the moment.

Do you think theaters have a way to save themselves? Or is the time of movie theaters over now?

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