GUEST COLUMN: Price Wars

Photo: Getty Images

Photo: Getty Images

Patrick Fenton

We’ve all done it. I did it last week. That supposedly cheap night at the movies, a summertime excuse to sit in a dark air-conditioned room and hopefully get a few cheap laughs and thrills, while munching and drinking the cheapest and most produced commodity in North America: corn. So why the hell did it cost me fifty bucks?

I love movies. I can’t help it. I snuck into the Jurassic Park matinee on opening day, even though my parents were taking me that night. That’s the craze a movie can put on a person.

Back then, tickets were five bucks. (I called it allowance well spent.) Oh, here we go, another piece bitching about movie prices, right? Well, yes, so deal with it. This is a problem that is not only affecting your wallet but the quality of movies in general, so this is important, dagnabbit!

Everything affects everything else, though, like a hellish domino set jacking prices up higher and higher. The forty-dollar movie night used to be a fifteen-dollar movie night in that naïve summer of ‘93. It’s worth noting because, at the time, the minimum wage was about five bucks, making the complete experience about three hours worth of work: two for the movie and one for the popcorn. Fair enough. But inflate to today’s prices and add another hour, for… what? Profit.

The theatre owners love to dispel their explanations and for the most part the public seems to eat them up. The most common is the 98% markup on popcorn. According to Canadian Business, it pays the costs of running the theatre, paying staff, et cetera. (Read: The same old gibberish every business gives us when they raise prices because wages went up.)

The popcorn slingers deserve a wage, despite their constant ineptitude, but it doesn’t always have to be our wallets taking the hit. Once again, this is a case of the elite protecting their overgenerous profit margins at our expense. This happens everywhere but it’s most problematic and most obvious at theatres where the primary sales come from popcorn.

Whether it’s to make up for that lunch you missed earlier in the day or to distract yourself from wanting to step outside for a smoke every five minutes, it’s just corn. It covers about 50 million acres of North American land, with about 8 billion bushels produced annually. We all accept that the markup on a litre of soda pop is up the wazoo, but there are limits, and when you add the theatre combos to the mix, those limits are reached.

The combo is a sacred idea in the fast food industry. When a consumer sees a combo board, they immediately think they are getting a discount for buying items in a package. The theatres used to somewhat respect this presumption, but no more. Every single popcorn combo on the board of most theatres now includes a candy.

The early, naïve assumption of the consumer was that this was some sort of discounted candy. Nope, it costs the same amount in the combo that it would if you bought it at the convenience store. Take four bucks off any movie theatre combo that includes a large bag of candy, and that price starts to look a lot more fair.

They always had candy, but they didn’t used to force it on you. Now, candy has become the tax we pay on our popcorn, to pay the wages of kids that often take three minutes to fill and butter a bag of popcorn. Besides the grocery store, the movie theatre is alone in making a five-person lineup look monolithic — but at least at the grocery store, you’re not paying a premium for the bad service!

Don’t fall for the movie theatre’s con. They don’t need to force candy on you while marking up the goods you want by 98 per cent. With the installation of cash machines at the self serve ticket kiosks, they’d only need one service representative for the entire ticketing process.

For that matter, with their 3D digital projectors now likely bought and paid for, the premium for 3D screenings should be null and void – especially with so many studios doing a lazy, uninspired job on 3D for even their big movies. (*cough* Dawn of the Planet of the Apes *cough*)

Ticket prices at the theatre are now based on the take-the-money-and-run gambit, as well. Instead of counting on multiple viewings by the general public, only the hardcore fan will come back for a twelve- or eighteen-dollar ticket. A family of four could see a movie for less than $50 with children’s pricing, but if anybody wants snacks that becomes a more costly affair than many parents are willing to pay for. Taking into consideration any significant age/taste gaps in the movie selection, families at the movies could pay almost one hundred dollars for an experience that only half of them may enjoy.

The public has shown they don’t mind paying a premium rate for premium services, but not for nothing. IMAX and films actually filmed in 3D should deservedly be premium-priced, for those that go in for that sort of thing, but post-converted 3D and regular, 2D movies are generally not worth more than eight bucks a viewing. An eight-dollar price tag is also much more likely to get audiences returning to see a movie again, and again, and maybe one more time.

It’s too much for the modern businessman to fathom, unfortunately. The idea of repeat sales is lost on so many of them in their new, crazy, shortsighted business model.

The only solution to wallet-gouging is the same one for everything when it comes to consumers. Vote with your dollars and say no to that damned devil of the candy bag and bring in your own from the dollar store (which has essentially become the new Canadian grocery store, but that’s a rant for a different day). If only we had protection from some sort of… What’s that word?… Oh, government!

But again, another rant for another day. In the meantime, I’ll be keeping my eighteen dollars this week and forgoing seeing Hercules in IMAX to instead stay home, pop in my home copy of Jurassic Park, and chow down on a cheap bag of popcorn and some reasonably priced, store-bought candy.

With “facts” from

http://www.canadianbusiness.com/business-strategy/cost-of-movie-popcorn-keeps-ticket-prices-low/

http://www.theglobeandmail.com/arts/film/a-modest-defence-of-price-gouging-at-movie-theatres/article623084/

http://nanc.ipni.net/articles/NANC0003-EN


I graduated from Mohawk College not just with an advanced diploma in Journalism but also with a love for movies that encompasses all the genres. A good movie can’t happen without a good script, and I’m currently cautiously optimistic Abrams and Kasdan can fix Star Wars and not throw it Into Darkness. Check out more of my gibberish, game/film reviews, and the occasional poem at http://nuttycrazyramblings.blogspot.ca.

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