For the sake of argument, lets assume that I go see a movie every single Friday night. I take my wife and we buy popcorn and sodas. Now, to give the theaters a break, we’ll even be a tad frugal and say that down at the AMC, the wife and I stick to the “Clip’s Picks” special: a 16 oz. soda, 32 oz. popcorn and a regular candy for $7.50. The local AMC just pushed their ticket price for a regular adult evening show to $10. One night at the theater, not including gas, will run me $35.00. Expand that out to a year and you get $1,820. Next year, prices are likely to be higher, not lower.
Last year, I bought an HD projector for the house for under $900, I think it was $832 or close to that. Grouped with the $150 sound system we picked up a few years ago on a Black Friday super deal, our $95 5 disc DVD changer (that upscales content), and the 102″ screen we built for under $25 (wood, white sheets and a staple gun), it makes for a fairly nice experience of watching films. Of course, I didn’t buy this just to watch DVDs on, we also watch TV and play Xbox 360 on it (really freaking sweet by the way). Trying to figure out how much to charge to what activity gets a tad complex. For now, I’m actually going to lump it all together and say $1,200 to make a home theater. Of course, some people don’t like projectors, and that is their choice, but it’ll run them a whole lot more and net them a smaller screen.
Buying in bulk down at the BJ’s, the cost of popcorn runs maybe $0.50 and candy around the same, sodas too. For both of us, at home, the movie snacks cost under $3.00 for both of us. $156 for the year.
As for movies, lets take a Netflix membership. The lowest plan they have that would allow us to see a movie a week is the “1 DVD at a time – Unlimited” plan for $8.99 a month. $8.99 * 12 = $107.88 / 52 = $2.08 a week. So, for us to rent a movie from Netflix and watch it together costs us $1.04 each.
Total cost for 1 year of watching movies at home in a theater I built myself: $1,200 + $156 + $107.88 = $1,463.88.
Now, for the second year, I won’t need to rebuild the theater, but I might upgrade to an HD-DVD or Blu-Ray player, so I can subtract the $1,200 for initial investment and add back in a $200 cushion for improvements, if I desire them, making the second year cost me only $463.88.
But wait… what if I bought DVDs instead of rented them? One advantage to buying a DVD is that thanks to places like Amazon and eBay, no movie is every really unavailable, while if a movie you want to see doesn’t open well at the boxoffice it may be gone before it gets a second weekend. If I were really going to abandon the multiplex for the home uniplex, you can bet I’d pre-order movies. Again, thanks to Amazon, a pre-ordered movie will run $16.99, less sometimes. If I wait for the release day, I can usually find a store selling a new movie for $14.99. Even if I was generous and set the price at $19.99, the movie tickets were the same price. Except we get to own the movie and watch it as many times as we want, and if the movie sucks it didn’t cost us any more than going to the theater, but we can give it away or sell it to someone who would enjoy it.
From a purely monetary aspect, the home theater is the wiser investment, so lets put money aside. What makes the traditional movie house better than watching the movie at home?
For one, sometimes I do just like being in a large audience. However, these days that is being severely overshadowed by my desire to avoid people who text message, leave their ringers on, and talk. In addition to this, I’ve noticed that to combat noisy audiences some theaters turn up the volume of the movies, couple that with the not-quite-soundproofed walls and all the sudden my quiet drama is being invaded by the action film next door.
Seeing movies sooner. A movie tends to be in the theaters anywhere from 3 to 18 months before it comes out on DVD, though very few go longer than a year anymore, and for others it is entirely dependent on holiday shopping seasons. But, on the other hand, in general, a movie that fails to do well at the boxoffice tends to get to DVD sooner. So the seeing movies sooner reason really only applies to movies that are going to do well, or movies that are going to get held for some reason (Christmas movies that open at Christmas tend to go to DVD the following Christmas regardless of their boxoffice take). Really though, the only reason I desire to see a movie sooner in the theater is so that I don’t have to spend the next six months trying to avoid spoilers on the internet and elsewhere until I see it.
So where does all this leave us?
The wife and I like the AMC theater chain. The main reason for this is that they run a special, see a movie on Friday, Saturday or Sunday before noon and its cheap. It was $5, now up to $6 with recent price increases. At $6 and generally being less hungry or apt to snack before noon, a $12 showing of a movie is worth it. Even if we snacked the usual nighttime snacks it would be just $27.00 if we both went for the full Clip’s Picks deal, and that is much closer to the approximate $23 we’d spend buying the DVD and making our own snacks. Close enough that it doesn’t bother me… much.
Overall though, except for the occasional “must see” movie, I just don’t envision myself going to the movies much anymore. Hollywood and movie theaters have priced themselves right out of my casual budget and wedged themselves nicely into the “once in a while” budget. If they raise the prices any more, they’ll shift into the “almost never” budget, and beyond that is the realm of “when I win the lottery” and “not on your life”. If they want my money on opening weekend, something has to change…