A major movie milestone was almost upon us, according to The Wall Street Journal, which broke the news today that movie ticket prices will reach $20 this weekend. And then moviegoers across an uneasy nation breathed a collective sigh of relief when soon after, the Associated Press broke the news that it was a mistake.
The owners of AMC told the AP that the $20 adult ticket price for an IMAX viewing of Shrek Forever After at some Manhattan movie theaters was an error, and that anyone who purchased the tickets for that price can have the difference refunded.
Still, a $20 movie ticket seems inevitable. Currently, on average, whether you live suburban Minneapolis or downtown Los Angeles, you're going to pay $17 for an adult ticket to an IMAX 3D movie.
And in any case, tickets are apparently going up yet again. As we reported in March, they had climbed 8.3% for regular 3D movie prices and 10% for IMAX 3D films -- well, according to The Los Angeles Times, theaters are nonetheless raising their Imax 3D prices again, this time by another 2.3% for adults and 2.8% for kids. If you noticed, that's not a misprint -- a kid's ticket is climbing higher than the adult's, a trend that, if it continues, might someday mean that a child's ticket won't be any less than a grown up.
It's somewhat worse overseas. A parenting and travel writer colleague of mine, Kayt Sukel, who hails from The Woodlands, Texas but is based in Bedesbach, Germany where her husband is stationed, tells me that it's 15 Euros per ticket for an IMAX 3D film, which comes out to about $20 American. "That's $60 without snacks for a first-run movie," laments Sukel. "[It's an] expensive night out!"
Jane Boursaw, a prolific pop culture writer with her own movie blog, Film Gecko, told me shortly before it was determined that the twenty bucks price was an error, "I understand that theaters need to charge more for 3D/IMAX movies, but $20 seems a little excessive."
Fair price or not, she added, "That's going to keep a lot of parents from taking their kids to the theater when funds are tight and so many people want our hard-earned cash."
With movie tickets already extremely high, Boursaw, for the most part, forgoes the IMAX films and takes her kids to the pre-5 p.m. shows, which, in Traverse City, Mich., run for $6.50 and an extra $3 if it's a 3D film. "I have two kids, so if I take both, and we buy snacks, you can where you're looking at $60 to $70 for a movie, which, let's face it, you could see a live concert for that in some areas," says Boursaw. "A lot of parents I know simply wait for the DVDs to be released these days, although there's nothing like the theater experience, in my mind. I love the theater, not only because you can see the movie on a big screen as it's meant to be seen, but you get the cozy darkness, the shared experience of seeing it with other people, the aroma and buttery goodness of the popcorn ..."
Curious, I asked Sukel and Boursaw if there was a price point where they would stop going to the movies. For Sukel, she isn't sure if she has one for a movie that she wants to see, but for a children's movie, she suspects that once it costs more for one person to see a movie than it would cost to buy the DVD, that's her breaking point.
Boursaw, too, can't put a limit on what she would pay for herself, since reviewing films is part of her career, but for her kids, she says that if and when a ticket gets to be $15, then Hollywood theaters will probably stop getting her business. "Because, think about it," she muses, "a DVD is probably going to be around $20 when it's originally released. For that cost, everyone in the household -- and neighborhood, for that matter, if you pass it around -- can see it, and the cost of snacks is practically nil if you make your own popcorn. And if you don't actually buy the DVD, you can rent it from Netflix or the local video store for a lot less."
Of course, for now, a movie-going nation can be pleased that IMAX 3D tickets are still less than $20, but for Hollywood theater owners thinking of going there, they ought to be warned that at least a couple movie viewers -- and I suspect a lot more than a couple -- are planning their exit strategies if the prices keep climbing to surreal heights.
Geoff Williams is a frequent contributor to WalletPop. He is also the co-author of the book Living Well with Bad Credit.
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