Is Seeing a Film Becoming Too Expensive?

The term ‘movie magic’ exists for a reason; there’s an immersive quality about watching movies that transports audiences to other worlds. Going to the cinema can make movies special. Sure, the floors might be sticky and the chairs a bit battered, but it’s hard to beat the immersion of audio so loud it demands to be felt or the visual impact of scenes playing out on a wall-sized screen. Or at least that was the case, until the cost of seeing a movie in cinemas reached a point where a would-be movie-goer may be better off just footing the bill for Netflix and some snacks. It’s not the same experience, and so the question is raised: is the cost of seeing a movie in cinemas still worth it?


The average cost of seeing a movie in the United States as of July of 2015, according to an article on The Hollywood Reporter, was $8.61. A piece in The Telegraph cites ticket price-highs of £20 in London.  Similarly, seeing a movie in New York can cost up to $20 a ticket. Add some over-priced popcorn and that’s starting to look like a big price tag.

For a couple to go to the movies, it’s not unreasonable to expect spending at least $40 for the entire outing, with the cost decreased significantly for moviegoers who smuggle in their own snacks and drinks. Also worth considering: people who movie-hop – paying to see one movie- then sneaking into other screenings afterwards. (We can’t condone this- but be sure it happens.)

“Historically, cinema-going was a very cheap pastime. It was mass consumption and mass leisure”.

There is some speculation that tiered pricing for movies could very well be the future. Rolling Stone ran a piece that points to how Paramount offered a mega-ticket for $50 to see World War Z two days ahead of its widespread release. The ticket covered the cost of seeing the movie, special World War Z RealD 3D glasses, a limited edition poster, a HD digital copy of the film upon its release, and a small popcorn. This unusual new development could be a modern take on dinner theater or a parallel to seeing live shows, (which aren’t exactly known for being inexpensive either).

World War Z.jpgMovie theatres such as Hollywood Boulevard in Illinois act as a combination restaurant and movie theater, providing patrons a chance to enjoy a good meal (complete with punny, movie-themed names for their food), a mixed drink, and a comfortable movie experience with seating that feels more like a lecture hall than the standard movie theater stadium arrangement. However, it’s just as easy to argue that this practice would make seeing movies in theaters a far more exclusive endeavor, and that seems to defeat the purpose of the medium: for mass enjoyment.  James Chapman, a professor of film studies at the University of Leicester, noted that cinema was being lost as a popular pass time- “Historically, cinema-going was a very cheap pastime. It was mass consumption and mass leisure”.

The British Film Institute claims the average cost of a cinema ticket has increased 26% in the last 5 years.

What really determines if it’s worth seeing a movie before it’s available for purchase? That comes down, largely, to personal preference. Is it something you’ve been waiting for? Does it look like a movie that will be more enjoyable if first seen in a more immersive environment? Or will the comfort of home-viewing and a smaller screen be sufficient? It’s easy to get wrapped up in questioning the worth of the movie-going experience and forget that it’s a creature-comfort that many people will tolerate the cost of because it’s so hard to replicate elsewhere.

The idea of movie screenings costing up to, or upwards of, $50 is a bit troubling, but with additional bells and whistles, it feels more like an evolution of the overall experience mixed with a dash of corporate greed rather than simply demanding more money. It’s important to keep in mind that the movies audiences love to watch cost a great deal to make, and so studios will do what they can to make the money back. Cinemas have to make their money too, in order to stay open and keep offering us these immersive experiences. All these financial needs have to be catered for in what is quite a complex industry.

The British Film Institute claims the average cost of a cinema ticket has increased 26% in the last 5 years, but the long and short of it is that movies, no matter the cost, will always be a magical experience in theaters and at home, and cost will likely remain something of an after-thought as it does with many creature-comfort activities. Whether there will be any sort of backlash over the increasing prices of tickets seems unlikely, but remains to be seen…

By Phil Gorski

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