Cheap Popcorn At The Movie Theater: Your Next “Right?”

by John Hawkins | March 6, 2012 4:16 am

The last time I went to the movies, it cost more than $40 for two tickets, popcorn, soda, and some candy for two — and, yes, I thought that was ridiculously expensive. Of course, it never occurred to me that I should sue the movie theater for not providing me with cheaper food, but this being America 2012, there are some people who feel they have a right to cheap food at the theater[1].

Joshua Thompson loves the movies.

But he hates the prices theaters charge for concessions like pop and candy.

This week, the 20-something security technician from Livonia decided to do something about it: He filed a class action in Wayne County Circuit Court against his local AMC theater in hopes of forcing theaters statewide to dial down snack prices.

“He got tired of being taken advantage of,” said Thompson’s lawyer, Kerry Morgan of Wyandotte. “It’s hard to justify prices that are three- and four-times higher than anywhere else.”

Of course, if you know a little more about the business, there’s actually a reason why concessions cost so much[2] beyond the whole, “We’re the only game in town so you better learn to love it” pricing that you see at airports, stadiums, and other places where there’s a captive audience.

The movie itself is considered a loss leader by the theater owner: It is meant to get people into the theater. The theater makes its money selling refreshments to the movie audience. That’s why concessions are so expensive — without the profits generated by things like popcorn and soda, most theaters could not afford to stay in business.

At the end of the negotiated engagement, the theater pays the distributor its share of the box office earnings and returns the print. If a movie is very popular and can continue to draw a steady crowd, the theater may renegotiate to extend the lease agreement. Any time you see the phrase “Held over,” you know that the theater has extended the movie lease.

While first run movies that have just been released are loss leaders, movies that have been out for a while can be profitable for the theaters that show them. Second run theaters often get very attractive leasing terms from the distributor. These theaters are facing increasing competition though, as first run theaters continue to show more movies past the traditional four to six week time frame.

Setting that aside, nobody makes you buy popcorn and soda at the movie theater. If you like, you can eat before you go, drink all the water you want, and enjoy the film sans overpriced M&M’S and popcorn. You could also just wait for the movie to come out on video and watch it in the comfort of your own home with whatever snacks you want. Of course, you COULD also sneak food into the theater. Maybe you’re not supposed to do it, but plenty of people do and your chances of getting caught are extremely low. Oh, but I forgot, those are slightly inconvenient options. So instead, this guy’s suing. Maybe it can be followed up with congressional hearings where it’s declared that 83% of Americans need cheap food in the theaters for medical reasons and, of course, it’s a right.

Here’s a thought: if the high cost of concessions bother you all that much, go spend your money somewhere else. It’s not as if there’s any shortage of places to spend your money.

  1. right to cheap food at the theater:
  2. why concessions cost so much:

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