The Big Picture

Patrick Goldstein and James Rainey
on entertainment and media

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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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Memo to studios & theatres: 15 yr old daughter and pack of friends, once guaranteed to see a movie every single Friday night, now collectively state that they'd rather spend "their" money elsewhere. Incredibly enough, since most movies are even to them forgettable, they'd rather spend $7 on a large Pinkberry with toppings than take a chance on the current slate of movie drek. It was nice knowin' ya, Hollywood... you lost the teenagers- nice job!

Because of Movie Ticket Prices, I barely go to the movies anymore. I just watch them on my Home Theater System using Netflix or PPV. Much cheaper, much more enjoyable. I don't need to see things as soon as they come out.

The last movie I saw was Shutter Island. Though good, it wasn't exceptional. I no longer join the crowd when I get the call to meet my friends at the theater. Instead, I stay home, turn on the Dodgers game, and enjoy a bag of microwave popcorn and a soft drink in the comfort of my recliner. Buh-bye mediocre movie experience costing me $25 that could be better spent elsewhere.

Movie tickets, too high for me. Who is really making the $$$. It's not like I am driving around in a Mercedes and living in a multi-million home. Are they blaming it on the cost of making movies, paying the actors, the theaters? My theater looks the same from the first time I seen, but they seem to make their money from popcorn and sodas (etc). I saving my $$ for redbox, were the bottom line is the end results are still the same - I get the point of the movie.

As a kid, I could go mow the neighbor's lawn, then go to the movies, buy popcorn and a drink, and have change left. A family of four going to the movies now, with popcorn and drinks, is spending over $100. The pricing is crazy, and the moat between the haves and the have-nots is getting wider.

I hope they get MORE expensive. Like cigarettes. Lots of people stopped smoking because cigarettes got so expensive. Same will happen here. Maybe we'll all stay home and get to know our families. Maybe we'll stay home and do art, or play board games, or have friends over and play music. There's a lot to do that doesn't involve spending that kind of money to take a family to the movies to listen to the guy behind you talking on his cell phone. We've all had to tighten our belts. It's time for Hollywood to do the same.

Me and the Missus spent $100 (after parking fees, tickets and food) to watch Dark Knight Returns in Imax and wound up getting stuck on the first row. Great movie, but not worth it.

The higher they raise the movie prices...the less guilty i feel about downloading them illegally. I mean 50% of movies I see, I don't have the money to do so and thus would never get to see the film.

I think the public needs to stop complaining and realize that movies cost money to produce and market. There are tons of other entertainment options that aren't as entertaining as movies and cost a ton more than a movie ticket. Examples: sporting events; concerts; live theater; cover charges at clubs and so on. Get over it people!

lPeople will still pay and go to the movies, however, Hollywood is really testing the public's patience. I see more people lined up to buy the $1 videos at Redbox every weekend. People after a while will get used to not being the first to see a movie....they'll be satisfied to wait a couple of months for the video. $20 is insane, even if it is IMAX and 3D.

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