The Big Picture

Patrick Goldstein and James Rainey
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Hollywood ticket prices raised again: Is it time for moviegoers to say 'Hell no!'?

3D_movies If you go to the movies, you've probably noticed that movie ticket prices have been skyrocketing higher than the stock market during a bull run. And now, according to this new story from my colleague Richard Verrier, ticket prices are climbing even higher. Even though ticket prices in the first quarter of 2010 were up 8% from the same period last year--the biggest yearly increase since theater owners began tracking ticket data in 2001--they've already taken another leap upward.

Industry analyst Richard Greenfield found that if you go to see "Shrek Forever After" in 3-D at an AMC Imax theater in New York this weekend, you'd be paying an astounding $20 for an adult ticket, up from $16.50 in late March. (It now turns out that the ticket prices are closer to $19, though it's still unclear whether that was because of an error on Greenfield's part or because AMC quickly switched the prices after seeing how badly the price hike was playing with a leading industry analyst.) At any rate, here's what Greenfield had to say: "With the state of the economy remaining questionable, we worry pricing is simply moving up too quickly, especially kids' pricing, which is increasing at a faster rate than that of adult tickets." 

The latest price increases come less than eight weeks after theater owners instituted some of the steepest hikes in years--some of them upward of 25%--beginning with the late March debut of  DreamWorks Animation's "How to Train Your Dragon." The latest flurry of ticket price hikes, of course, comes with the release of DreamWorks' latest "Shrek" sequel, which seems to have a certain kind of poetic justice to it, since DreamWorks Animation czar Jeffrey Katzenberg has long been the most vocal proponent for charging higher prices for 3-D movies, perhaps because his business model revolves around the increased profit margins from 3-D releases.

It's no secret that increased 3-D ticket prices were largely responsible for the industry's 10% jump in domestic box office revenues last year. But projections for this year's numbers aren't as high, with analysts expecting attendance to actually dip a bit, which would translate into about a 6% revenue hike.

If I were a theater owner, I would take a close look at Major League Baseball to see how easy it is to kill the golden goose. 3-D movies have an undeniably attractive novelty factor, not unlike what happens in a city where the team opens a sparkling new high-tech, luxury-facility-laden new baseball stadium. The new ballpark is almost invariably accompanied by higher ticket prices. Attendance immediately skyrockets, boosted by the wow factor from the new ballpark's fancy amenities. It improves the owner's profit margins, but usually only for a brief period of time. If the team starts losing, fans start staying away in droves, complaining not only about the team's awful pitching staff but also about its steep ticket prices.

The same thing could happen to theater owners if moviegoers get stuck with a few lousy summer movies in a row. Bad buzz gets around faster today than ever before, thanks to texting and Twitter, but it really gets around fast if you take a family of four to see a summer movie and after paying more than $100 for tickets, parking and popcorn, you end up having to sit through a stinker. You'd think that theater owners would remember that once people get out of the habit of going to the movies, writing it off as an overpriced experience, it's harder than ever to get them to come back.

Photo: Journalists watching a 3-D trailer for the upcoming film "Empires of the Deep" in Beijing last month. Credit: Gemunu Amarasinghe / Associated Press

Comments () | Archives (26)

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This post is obviously you desperate to write something, anything.

Movies are still an absolute bargain. Go to a concert or something Patrick.

Very few movies are worth $15+. To speak Californiaese, let's take a look at In N Out. Decent food for really cheap = very exciting. I can go there and get a good burger, tasty fries, and a milkshake for just over $6. But if I were to go to, say, Aroma Cafe, or some other average L.A. restaurant, it would be $12 or more for the burger. Unless that burger is incredibly good, I'm not going to be nearly as excited about it as that very cheap, not-quite-as-good meal. Quality + affordable = rabid fans (who return time after time).

If it bothers you so much maybe you should stop patronizing the giant corporate theater chains and start supporting some small scale independent theaters where the crowds aren't as obnoxious, the films are better, and the price ranges are generally where they should be.

Ticket prices are at a tipping point for many moviegoers. Over the past several months, people seem to have said it's just not worth it for a so-so movie and spent the dollars on other entertainment. For the big movies, people will still shell out the bucks, but I predict lesser movies will suffer.


Hey I'll just watch it at home when it hits DVD, with a glass of wine and bag of chips.

ive already voted with my feet and have stayed away from the movies. the last movie i saw was alice in wonderland which cost me 12.50 without 3d for a matinee ticket! the movie was good but it wasn't 12.50 good. prior to that, i watched shutter island for 11.50 (different theater) and not feeling guilty about the ticket price greatly increased my enjoyment of the movie. but the 12.50 price really stuck in my crawl and reminded me that not so long ago movies were regularly under 9 dollars. it's too bad for the theater owners because i wouldve watched alot of movies especially the summer ones but now i've decided to save money and stay at home and watch rentals or watch sports on tv or get some exercise outside.

Everyone should stop buying movie tickets, immediately. Ticket prices have far exceeded the value of the movies made for a decades. I have seen only one movie in a theater in the last three years, have saved tons a money and love not having to go through the awful theater experience. The movie industry is a complete ripoff. Boycott them all now!

A response to 'Toby of the Hill People'. As someone with a family I must say that Mr. Patrick is spot on with his article. This is not hysterics this is a real situation with families who enjoy going to the movie theatre.

Just remember: For the price of a movie and snacks these days, one can go see the ultimate in 3D: Live Theatre.

Just a perspective. When I was a child in the 1950s, ticket prices were about 15 cents. Within my lifetime, they have increased by almost 100 times. That would mean children of today should expect going to the movies to cost about $1500 by the time they are ready to retire.

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