The Batman opens tomorrow, and it’s sure to be another money-maker for recovering movie theaters. But AMC, not content to merely make money but to rake in money, is further increasing their take by hiking ticket prices for the movie. At one point during the depths of the pandemic shutdown, “variable pricing” was mentioned as a way to lure people back to theaters by LOWERING ticket prices for smaller films, to entice people to movies that, otherwise, might not stir much of a (theatrical) audience these days. Instead, AMC has decided to RAISE prices, at a time when income loss and inflation are already digging into people’s pockets. Good idea, I’m sure there will be no negative repercussions whatsoever!
As theater audiences have dwindled over the last couple of decades, the number one culprit blamed has been streaming and improvements in the home viewing experience. Better, cheaper technology means people are watching a better quality of image at home, with better sound, and streaming makes everything so damn convenient, it’s no wonder that people have opted more and more to just watch at home, barring those huge spectacle movies like superhero stuff and Star Wars. But the silent killer has been ticket prices, which have risen with inflation over the decades even as wages (in the US) remained stagnant. Theater owners are quick to point out that tickets are still “cheap”, averaging less than $10 in 2019 (before the pandemic made everything screwy).
But wages haven’t increased along with inflation, which means that a movie ticket, even under $10, is taking a bigger bite out of your wallet than ever. And while tickets are “cheap”, concessions are not, and a family of four can easily spend over $50 just on tickets and snacks. By the time you factor in ancillary costs like parking, gas, and maybe even babysitters for kids too little to sit quietly in a theater, a family can spend over $100 on a night at the movies. The days of movies being a cheap date are over, it’s now a nice night out (which is why movies are longer, as distributors feel pressure to make movies more of an “event” since it’s becoming a selective expenditure for audiences). As we emerge from the pandemic—which isn’t over except that businesses have decided so—movies are even more expensive as inflation hits; AMC, for instance, has hiked prices to $10.50 a ticket, a significant increase from the 2019 average of $9.16.
And now AMC is also going to upcharge for what will undoubtedly be one of the biggest movies of the year. Perhaps they’re doing it to squeeze as much cash as they can from a shortened exclusivity window, as outgoing WarnerMedia CEO Jason Kilar announced on a Recode podcast that The Batman will hit HBO Max as soon as April 19. A big reason Spider-Man: No Way Home has made over $1.8 billion to date is because it has pretty much had cinemas to itself since mid-December, but The Batman won’t linger that long in theaters, limiting the haul for exhibitors. Adam Aron, CEO of AMC, points out this pricing model is used in Europe, and that events like live concerts upcharge for better seats, which isn’t so different from upcharging for popular movies, but a movie is not a live concert. Audiences have 100 years of thinking of movies one way, and while movie-going is becoming a more selective event, it’s a long way from equating to live entertainment in people’s minds.
People go to the movies for escape, to forget their own problems and live in someone else’s world for a while. Reminding them at the door that sh-t is EXPENSIVE isn’t exactly setting the right mood for said escapism. Also, amidst these price hikes—which apply to concessions, not just tickets—what are theaters doing to make the audience experience better? Anything? While some people are lucky enough to live near a well-managed theater, on average, the audience experience has been dwindling as exhibitors cut corners, resulting in poorly projected films, bad sound, dirty theaters and nasty bathrooms, and long-ass lines at concession stands. The times I’ve been to the theater in the last year haven’t been any better than in the before times, despite exhibitors having plenty of time and every excuse to work on improving the audience experience. Yet amidst all the conversation and ideas thrown around to “save” theaters, actually making theaters better never seems to come up. If we’re going to pay more, why don’t we get more?
Live long and gossip,