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My sticker shock: Sixteen bucks for a movie, and it wasn't even in 3-D


I went to see "Solitary Man" on Sunday afternoon at the ArcLight Cinemas in Hollywood. As it is a small release (Millennium Films and Anchor Bay), I didn't bother buying the tickets in advance. Instead, I took my chances and figured I'd buy them at the theater.

As expected, the show wasn't sold out. What surprised me was the $16 ticket cost. This was an adult drama, after all, not some 3-D action-franchise-sequel aimed at teens. Evidently, I was going during "peak viewing" times (5:30 p.m. on a Sunday) -- as someone at the kiosk next to me explained when I verbalized my surprise -- and the ArcLight charges more for that privilege.

Arclight According to the ArcLight website, it charges extra to see movies on Friday and Saturday after 6 p.m. and all day Sunday. The price increases vary by neighborhood. In Hollywood, seeing a movie costs $16.00 in peak viewing times, while in Sherman Oaks and Pasadena, the peak charge is $14.50.

One of the perks of the ArcLight is getting to choose your seat, no commercials and limited coming attractions. Paying a few extra bucks for that is, in my opinion, worth the price of admission. But an additional charge to watch a movie on a Sunday afternoon -- a movie that attracted all of about 25 other customers -- strikes me as excessive. 

Theaters have long charged less for matinees and early morning screenings, but charging a higher ticket price to watch a movie in the film-going equivalent of prime time is a newer and less consumer-friendly trend.

One has to wonder how long it will be before other theater chains that don't provide ArcLight's amenities  adopt a similar pricing strategy. In Washington, D.C., the subway costs more to ride at rush hour than at other times. Parking meters cost more in some cities during high-traffic periods. Why shouldn't the movie industry operate the same way? Heck, why not even start setting ticket prices based on the budget of a movie?

One reason theater owners and Hollywood should think hard before going further down this road is that it gives people just one more reason to stay home. At a time when theater operators are worried about movies popping up sooner on DVD and video-on-demand and thereby undercutting ticket sales, making it costlier to go out to the local multiplex seems ill advised. We go to movies to escape the day-to-day drudgery of life, and that should include not being subject to silly surcharges.

By the way, the movie was good, but not $16 good.

-- Joe Flint

Photos: Michael Douglas and Susan Sarandon in "Solitary Man." Credit: Phil Caruso; ArcLight by Anne Cusack / Los Angeles Times

Comments () | Archives (35)

At any price, guess you should support the industry that's supporting you. And with all the free screenings you're inivited to, you still come out ahead of the game. Put your face into their most excellent carmel popcorn and chill.


Thanks for the comment. Actually, I'm supported by Tribune Co. and I do not get invited to free screenings. I'm not a critic.

This is precisely why I've become so adept at scoring passes to word-of-mouth screenings. Coincidentally, I'll be seeing Solitary Man this way tomorrow night.

Actually AMC in Century City also lets you choose your own seats and they charge a "reasonable" $11.50 for a Sunday evening showing. It pays to shop around.

16 more reasons to stay home and watch a Blu-Ray on my big screen.

Wow, that price seems very unfortunate. And yes, it does seem to be a harmful cycle. Ticket sales are down, so the price goes up. The price goes up, so less people go to that theater. Ticket sales drop further; thus, an additional raise in price.

However I realize as I type this, it seems as though the theater could use this to position itself into being a high-price, low-traffic, relatively "luxury" spot. This could work to their advantage in a future where the cinema might need to set itself up as being more than just a place to watch movies and eat popcorn.

In any case, another reason I'm making this comment is to ask about the fact that the theater offers the option to "choose your seat". Is that not common place in other theaters in that area? In all the theaters around me (FL) allow me to choose my seat, provided it's not already occupied by another patron, haha.

Joe Flint,
The Tribune Company, and The Los Angeles Times, are kept alive (barely) by advertising sales. Mostly from the film industry. A chunk of that coming in during the awards season. Instead of getting a little testy about my comment, use the energy to get friendly with the Calendar crew, who are awash with free screening tickets (except for "Killers"). Keep enjoying the movies.


I wasn't getting testy. Just pointing out that I pay my own way when it comes to movies.

To each his/her own. I personally love the Arclight Cinemas. I live about 25 miles away from the nearest location and am willing to make the effort because the experience is worth it. I like their 21 and up only shows*. You also forgot to mention that they show the AFI Top 100 movies often followed with a discussion with the film makers , real butter for the popcorn, restaurant including adult beverages. As for the stay at home and watching movies it doesn't matter how big your TV screen is it will never be the same. Just think Dr. Zhivago, you need the theaters to see the movies the way they were designed to be viewed.

Message to SWF-don't shoot the messenger. Wow, it's amazing that you know so much about how the Tribune company and LA Times are run, maybe you should fix the economy too bozo.

Anyway, they should charge based on the quality of the movie, which means they'd actually be paying us to see dreck like "Sex and the City 2", and "Macgruber." It's sad because it's the adult moviegoer who suffers when good small films like "Solitary Man" tank at the box office, hence making it more difficult for other intelligent adult dramas to get made. They should actually charge less for these movies in an attempt to get people to see them at the theater.

Just another reason that I wait for it to come out on DVD. Or, just wait for Netflix to stream it and I can watch it over the Roku.

I'm sure that had a better story than avatar though. Unfortunately as you mentioned, it's a trend which most cinema are going to get behind. It's an easy way to get more money from people who can only go to the movies at the weekend, which is the majority of people.

I live in the UK, and a standard ticket now is £8.50, and lucky for us they only have a cheap day, rather than a premium weekend, or peak hour. All I have to deal with is trying to stealthly bringing in my subway sandwich.

Hopetjey dont get the same idea accross he pond.

Arclight instituted a program where Arclight members who buy tickets online get $1 off the regular price. The instant they began that policy they raised prices $1 so it was no deal at all. Also, if you don't sign in as a member the member prices are greyed out so you can't use them. However, when signed in as a member the non-member prices are not only available they are first in the selection list. Although signed in, I selected the wrong price and did not get the member online discount even though I did get the member points. When I brought this to the attention of Arclight management they refused to adjust the price. I love the Cinerama Dome and would never deal with Arclight if it wasn't for that. Those little theaters are just not worth it.

If you don't like paying $16.00, do like I do: don't go. You have a choice.
Quit complaining.

It's only natural: When tickets are reasonably (lower) priced, people will watch almost any movie with lower expectations and still feel satisfied, and keep coming, just to get out of the house. When tickets are too high priced, people will become much more selective and be willing to pay only for "must see" movies that word of mouth compel them to see. And if the hype entices customers to see a movie that disappoints them, you will have great difficulty attracting them again to see ANY movie. It looks like the cinemas are hell-bent on testing the limits, no matter the impact to their futures.

Cinerama - they've adjusted this now, the website automatically gives you the dollar off and members can't pick the lower price.

Besides, how is this bad? Arclight Hollywood is in a prime spot - if you go to the AMC in Burbank or Universal City on a Friday or Sat night you'll end up paying 13-14 bucks a ticket. Arclight has a premium due to fewer seats, a better experience, and obviously, trying to keep the high-end clientele too further the "premium-quality" experience.

If you want to pay less, there are tons of options - AMC theatres, second run theatres, and Netflix.

To quote your own words..."We go to movies to escape the day-to-day drudgery of life". When I get a chance to get away from work, my 4 kids and all my other daily responsibilities, a $16 price tag that guarantees me a comfortable seat next to my wife and a "premium experience" with no long lines, commercials, interuptions (cell phones, noisy neighbors) seems well worth the price of admission. If there is more demand for movie theatres in Hollywood than in Sherman Oaks, $2 buck more is perfectly appropriate. I bet you would pay more for parking in that city too!

Bottom line: no commercials and a nice seat.
Nothing ruins a night at the movies then a series of commercials that make you feel like a putz and being seated next to a couple nerd-bots chatting about where they key light for the scene was placed (or if the female leads boobs are real or not).
You want to fly first class? ArcLight does that.
Want to save a few? Google around, you'll find a dirty, dim screen somewhere serving day old popcorn and fake Coke. In fact you'll find quite a few of them.

My only problem with this piece is that you are presenting this as though it is a new business model for Arclight. When they opened, however many years ago, they were even further out of line from average ticket prices in LA. But the theater is so popular, they have been able to raise prices even more.

Try the Gold Class Cinemas if you want sticker shock followed by upselling for hours.

Well those well paid actors don't work for free and the screen writers are prepaid.

Hey Dave,

I realize they've been doing it for awhile, but it was the first time I'd experienced it and it seems like one of those things that people don't pay attention to that perhaps they should. As NBC used to say when promoting reruns, if you haven't seen it, it's new to you!


Joe Flint

What's going on with those Gold Coast theaters in Pasadena which charge $30 or more for dinner and digital projection in a tiny auditorium? The mention here was the first I've heard of them since their highly hyped opening a few months ago or their theaters that opened in Chicago a few years ago. I find it hard to believe that even before the recession there were enough well heeled trendoids to keep theaters like that going.

Rick Mitchell
Film Editor/Film Historian

Well, there's one big winner here, and it's called BitTorrent. Ask your kids.

The AMC theater in Warrenville Il has been doing that for a few years. Come to think of it, it was around that time that I quit going to theaters and started investing in a hi def playback system for my home. I may go to the theater now maybe once every 3 to 6 months, whereas I used to visit theaters 2 to 3 times a month.

Choose your seat? Where can't you choose your seat (besides NZ)? I've never heard of assigned seating in the US.

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