In my opinion, there is almost nothing quite as fantastic as seeing a good movie in the theater. The superior sound and the giant screen enveloping your vision and sucking you right into the story. Even the audience matters. Listening to people enjoying the movie too is part of the greatness. The gasps and laughs, the sniffing of stifled tears. It is unique and wonderful. But increasingly it isn’t worth the price of admission.
Before we even get to the literal price, there is so much more that is wrong with the movie going experience. As much as I love the idea of crowds, the reality of them is always so much less. If your kids aren’t capable of sitting still for a couple of hours and watching a movie, don’t bring them – get a sitter. Not only will everyone else enjoy the movie more, YOU will enjoy the movie more. Also, don’t go to the movies if you have trouble following plots. Nothing will annoy your neighbors more than you constantly asking your friend what’s going on. And if you aren’t enjoying a movie, consider leaving and asking for your money back rather than decide for everyone that this drama should be a comedy by adding your lame remarks in your loudest voice.
People who text or talk on cell phones during movies should be shot. And I’m not being hyperbolic here. Security should come in, drag the texter out of the theater, take them to a room and shoot them. Perhaps just in the hand. Maybe take off a finger, the little one. I bet if they lost a finger they’d stop texting during the movies. Assholes.
And theaters should be required to maintain a certain level of quality. There is a theater near me that I almost never go to because, as I say, “You pay for one movie and you get to listen to two!” The sound barrier between their screens is so poor that you literally get to hear two movies. If your movie is the loud action pack thrill ride, no problem, but if your movie is the dramatic quiet tear jerker, listening to soldiers bark commands and things explode while the main character of your film is supposed to be silently weeping his loss kind of ruins things. At the very least, theaters with shitty quality should charge shitty quality prices.
But before I get to ticket prices, it would be remiss not to mention the concession stand. I can buy a bag of popcorn at the grocery store for about a $1.50, so I wouldn’t be surprised to have to pay $3 to but the same amount of popcorn at a theater where they serve it to me – the people have to get paid somehow. But having to pay $5 to $7 for that amount of popcorn is stupid. And I’m not even going to bother with the $7 sodas. What?!? But what about those $3.75 to $5.75 boxes of candy that are only half filled? I understand that the theaters need the revenue, but every facet of their concession stand appears to be designed to make me angry and never want to buy anything there. These days I don’t even bother. Despite the hanging of signs saying it is forbidden, I bring my own soda and snacks to the movie. And don’t try to sell me on the “but if you buy a large you get free refills!” stuff, because I never leave the theater during the film if I can help it. Why on Earth would I miss part of the movie I just paid that much to see?
Which brings us to the ticket prices. My local theaters are between $9 and $12 for an evening ticket. The $9 is for a theater that is of lower quality. Of course, when I do go to see a movie, I pretty much always go to a matinée on the weekend, before noon, where the price is often $6, maybe $7, for the better quality houses. Still the price is high. For the wife and I to go see a movie it’s going to cost $12 to $24, just for the tickets. And for my money we get to see the movie one time. Whereas if I wait six months, I can buy the movie on DVD or Blu-ray for around the same price, and own the movie – which I can watch as many times as I want or watch it once and then sell it to get some of my money back.
I haven’t even gotten into the latest trend: 3D. Currently, you pay a premium for 3D, an extra $3 to $5 per ticket. They’ll tell you that the extra cost is to cover the glasses (which they ask you to give back so they can recycle them) or to recoup the cost of upgrading their projectors. If that’s true, though, at some point they should finish recovering the projector cost and glasses production & recycling should level off that the premium should go away. It should become standard. Of course, that’ll never happen as they will be too busy enjoying the extra profits. And you know it’s all about the money as every movie seems to be getting a 3D release – and most of those are post-production conversions, not filmed in 3D with special cameras.
I am a movie lover. And back in the days of tickets being $5 to $6 and a concession combo (drink & popcorn) was $4 to $5, I’d go see a movie every single week. It was what I did on a Friday or Saturday night. Now, they’ve doubled the prices and the result is that I never get concessions and I see a movie once every couple of months. And I have to imagine that I’m not alone. These days, my Friday or Saturday nights are often spent streaming a movie off Netflix or Amazon where I pay a movie ticket a month for unlimited streaming of thousands and thousands of movies. I don’t know who is to blame for the skyrocketing prices – the theater companies, the movie producers, someone else – but I do know that it is pricing me out of the market.
I read an article once, and I wish I could find it again (but I think it was in print, not on the Internet), that Hollywood and theater owners were both lamenting “event movies” – stuff like The Avengers, the Harry Potter films, Avatar – movies that draw people into theaters. Part of their lament was that smaller films just didn’t sell in theaters, and it was only these giant budget risks that stood a chance. I can’t help but think that they’re looking at everything all wrong. The problem is that it’s only these huge “must see” films that get people to ignore the high cost of admission. At half the price, at $6 or $5… or in my dream world $3, I feel people would be a lot more willing to take a risk on a movie. For $3, I would pretty much go see any movie in the theater – even if it was poorly reviewed, for $3 I’d be willing to judge it for myself. On the other hand, for $12 (or $15 in 3D), the movie better be well reviewed and give me two hours worth of awesome entertainment or else not only will I be unhappy but I’m likely to avoid going to the movies for a while. Once bitten, twice shy and all that.
So what do I recommend? First off, do some research on the movies you are going to see. Check this list, and if the movie says it was originally filmed in 2D, see it in 2D. Don’t reward people for going for the 3D cash grab. Second, go to weekend matinées. See the movie at 11am, then go for lunch, do some shopping, whatever, make a day of it – but start with the movie. Plus, if you eat breakfast, and then see a movie with the plan to get lunch after, you don’t need movie snacks, just sit back and enjoy the show. And third, find local theaters with good quality sound setups and stick to them. Reward theaters for being good theaters.
That third step can be the most difficult as movie distribution is a scam just like everything else. The best local theater nearest me doesn’t get all the best movies. They have 24 screens and didn’t get The Avengers, the 16 screen house down the road with lower quality got it. Two different movie theater companies, but they are serviced by the same distributor who ensures they take turns on the blockbusters and don’t compete. Lame.
You know… on second thought, you should probably just invest in a quality home theater instead.