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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)

Just wondering if you realize that $16 in 2010 is only about $6 in 1980 dollars.

Sixteen dollars for a movie is a lot of moolah. I saw There Will Be Blood at ArcLight and it was alright. I can see 8 movies at the discount theater or even more on Bargain Tuesday. I can rent 14 movies at Red Box for 16 bucks.

It makes sense to charge more at peak times, from a business point of view the cinema makes more money, from a logistical point of view it may encourage people to spread their viewing habits to other times of the day or week. I live in the UK, my local cinema has never claimed to charge extra at peak times but they only charge “full price” on evenings and weekends with one evening a week at matinee price and another giving 2 for 1 tickets for users of one of the largest mobile phone networks. The net result isn’t that much different to the peak charges you describe. One of the cinema chains also offers a pass that you pay a monthly fee to go as often as you like, as long as you see two or three movies a month it is cheaper than individual tickets but does tie you to one chain. I have mentioned it a couple of times on my movie blog (Fandango Groovers) and from the comments I have received I understand you don’t have anything similar over there. By the way the last time I saw a movie in America I paid just over $10 that is a little cheaper than I would expect to pay here.

Here's my question: At $16 a ticket, how long will it take for the "peak hours" to lose enough attendance to where they aren't "peak hours" any more?

NO movie is worth paying $16.00 to see in a theater.

what kind of person doesnt like the coming attractions?

And this is why I've gone to the movies a total of two times in the past year.

To the two people that asked about the seating system. When you buy tickets to see a movie at Arclight you are shown a diagram of all the seats in the auditorium and can choose any of the seats still available. The tickets are then printed with your reserved seat numbers. I love this feature as it allows me to buy tickets in advance and ensure that I get great seats. This prevents me from having to get to the theater really early if I want a decent seat (at least on weekend evenings).

Isn't charging more during peak hours the SAME as charging less for "matinees"? It really just opens the "matinee" time to include Mon-Thu nights rather than just pre-4pm showings. Arclight is a premium chain appealing to a specific crowd - a crowd that doesn't particularly love spending two hours struggling to listen to the dialogue as a nearby family of 18 cries, wiggles and complains. It caters to the adult movie snob community.

I can say as a newly unemployed, strapped for cash movie buff I will gladly still spend the extra few dollars to go to an arclight. Having a gift card in need of redemption for AMC I saw a 10:30 showing of Get Him to the Greek last Saturday. Even after leaving dinner early to make sure to get to the theatre to claim our seats we had to wait 20 minutes in line with people literally half our age (I'm only 29). My immediate thought was "I wish we skipped the gift card and just went to an Arclight." We could have enjoyed a lovely, reasonably priced dinner at the cafe and strolled casually into our large seats without a 13 year old in site just 2 minutes before the movie was scheduled to begin.

Call me irresponsible for spending $16 on a movie ticket while unemployed, but if I am going to spend $12, I might as well spend $16 and enjoy the experience.

You don't always get to pick your own seat? That's crazy!! They don't have a lower price for any movie before 6 p.m.? If you're ever traveling through Colorado, stop and take in a movie. We're pretty lucky here! Our movies (non-3D) are around $10, and less before 6 p.m.

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