Theaters are increasing ticket prices for blockbuster movies: fair or gouging?

AMC Theater’s Groups CEO Adam Aron made a bold announcement to his shareholders recently that has generated much discussion. Aron announced that AMC raised the prices for The Batman tickets and only The Batman tickets this past weekend. When news of the superhero surcharge leaked to the public, fans, producers, and studio execs pounded their fists about price gouging. They claimed that this cash grab was going to curtail the movie’s opening weekend. Not only did it not hurt The Batman’s opening, they aren’t the first movie theater chain to do it.

In the wake of AMC CEO Adam Aron’s announcement during a recent earnings call that he’s raised ticket prices specifically on The Batman, there are some studio executives and producers who are miffed.

It’s an audacious move at a time when moviegoing is desperate for a rebound following a financially disastrous pandemic, which saw circuits shutter for arguably a year.

However, there are an array of opinions on this topic, ranging from Aron’s move being a “nothing burger” to filmmakers and producers thinking that a new caste system of movie classification is on the horizon, i.e. if you’re not the director of a Marvel Cinematic Universe or DC title, well then you’re Ed Wood, and there’s no reason for the greater populous to buy a ticket to your movie.

First of all, AMC’s price surge (that’s what it is, I’m told — not variable, no dynamic) on The Batman is nothing new. In fact, Regal and Cinemark already hiked prices during Spider-Man: No Way Home’s opening weekend, and they did so again for The Batman. Note, the major studios have no input or sway in regards to what exhibitors charge ticket-price wise for movies.

EntTelligence reports that 20 million people stateside saw Spider-Man: No Way Home during weekend one versus 9.5M for The Batman. The disparity in box office openings boils down two different types of IP and their demand, not pricing: One is a reboot of a popular dark superhero, and the other a carnival which is the crossroads of the Marvel Cinematic Multiverse. Batman is also 25 minutes longer than Spider-Man, which arguably means more showtimes than the near 3-hour Matt Reeves directed The Batman.

No. 2 theater circuit Regal was charging $13.73 on average during Spider-Man‘s opening, above their average ticket price of $12.91. Cinemark was charging $11.19 on average for the Jon Watts-directed title vs. $10.63 while AMC that weekend charged an average of $13.92 to a regular price ticket of $13.21. This weekend for Batman, AMC’s average ticket price was $14.50 (vs. $13.22 regular ticket price), Regal’s was $13.44 (vs. $12.67) and Cinemark’s $11.25 (vs. $10.25)

[From Deadline]

So Regal and Cinemark are doing the same thing as AMC, they just aren’t saying it out loud. And neither Spider-Man: No Way Home nor The Batman were hurt but the price boost. AMC is in a great deal of debt. They have to do something or fold. However, when they told their shareholders about the ticket hike, they increased their share price 4% following the call. And they generated additional revenue from the ticket sales. Practically speaking, a blockbuster bump makes sense. People are slow to return to the theater except for blockbusters so getting a couple extra dollars for them will keep doors open for now. And with the incredible opening weekend The Batman had, combined with the anticipation both DCEU and MCU fans are generating, it might be the boost theaters need to get back on their feet.

But is it fair to us, the ticket holder? This is probably not going to be a popular opinion but I’m okay with it. If I could vote, I’d would rather not increase ticket prices but if struggling theaters have found a way to weather the post-pandemic slump, I will shell out an extra dollar to see my superhero films. As the article also suggested, what crushes me at the theater is the cost of concessions. I frequently plan to eat before or after the film as a result. But kicking in an extra $1 to see certain films on a big screen is something I am willing to do. Plus, by making smaller or independent film a less expensive ticket, it incentivizes people to see those for their night out. And maybe people will stop bagging on superhero films and the people who go see them, because we are literally being charged for our audacity of wanting to be mindlessly entertained by them.

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21 Responses to “Theaters are increasing ticket prices for blockbuster movies: fair or gouging?”

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  1. Dutch says:

    Many pro sports teams have been doing this for years. Weekend games, games with rivals, games against teams with a big draw star, etc., all cost more than the average ticket.

  2. Ninks says:

    If people want to pay more to see their superheroes on a giant screen in the company of others they’ll pay more. But I can’t see it being sustainable over the long term. It seems like a short term fix that’s ignoring the much larger issue.

  3. N0b0dy says:

    I’d rather pay more and watch from the comfort of home 🤷🏻‍♀️

    • Normades says:

      At the same time they should lower the prices of small budget and independent films.

      • DuchessL says:

        I wouldn’t be happy to pay more to see a blockbuster. Im sitting in the same seat, looking at the same screen, paying the popcorn & drinks the same price over the cost of the ticket. If they want to make more money, they should do 2 hours movies instead of endless 3hours with lower budgets. Im not the target clientele for superhero movies, but that would definitely make me sway towards more conventional movies and pay less or even better: just stay home and watch anything else. An unseen movie is an unseen movie.

    • Jan90067 says:

      Same here. There weren’t many things I *had* to see in the theater before, but now? Give me my sofa, my big flat screen, a glass of wine and a bowl of popcorn. I’ll snuggle under the throw, in front of the fireplace and enjoy my movie(s), like I did this year (and you don’t have to worry about needing bathroom breaks, and “missing something” lol).

      Not only that, but just *where* are these $13/14 movies? Here in So. Cal, movies were $18 and up (even more for IMAX, and this was before Covid). Are they going to rise it up to $22-25??? Or more??? That is NUTS!

      • Anne says:

        Yeah, I agree with everything you said. We’re not watching small square tube tv anymore. Everyone has big flat screen tvs and as you said you can get your glass of wine and pause for bathroom breaks. I really roll my eyes when some reviewer says you must see this in the theatre. Nope not happening.

      • Dutch says:

        Tennessee for one. I saw Batman as a Saturday matinee in suburban Memphis for $8. Regular price is $12.

  4. Becks1 says:

    My guess is if he hadn’t announced it, most people wouldn’t have noticed. Like they might think “wow these tickets are expensive” but if you’re not actively comparing the cost of going to see The Batman vs Encanto (back out in theaters apparently lol), then you might not pick up on it. Also at our local AMC, you pay more for the IMAX screen and then pay a different price for the theater with the reclining heated seats and then a different price for the regular theater (with reclining but not heated seats or something, I dont know lol.) and then you pay more based on a Saturday morning vs a Friday night etc. So basically I don’t know what a ticket at that theater “should” cost so I don’t know if I would pick up on a price increase, you know?

    Movies are expensive though, whether they’re trying to recoup losses after a pandemic or not, so as a family we only go about 2-4 times a year (trying to think of pre-pandemic and over the past year).

    • Lightpurple says:

      And at ours, if you go to the first two showings of the day, the tickets are 40% off and 30% off, even on weekends. That’s a Covid concession to try to get people back into the theater and I’m not sure how long it will last but I’m enjoying it when I can.

      I also remember it cost more to see Avatar.

  5. superashes says:

    My personal opinion? It isn’t price gouging if it is non-essential. No one needs to go to the theater, it is an entertainment choice. It isn’t like people with hand sanitizer and Clorox at the start of the pandemic.

    If AMC wants to jack up the prices, so long as there isn’t collusion and price fixing among the three theaters (in this case not since they all three are set at different prices), I don’t see the issue. An AMC moviegoer could just go to Cinemark and pay less than what AMC charged for non-blockbuster tickets.

  6. LadyMTL says:

    IMHO it is verging on gouging, unless the theater had to pay more to get the rights to show the movie in the first place (which doesn’t seem to be the case here.) I know it’s not a big increase, and I’m sure AMC and other chains were suffering financially, but to me this looks like nothing more than another big corporation using the pandemic as an excuse to inflate their prices. Will it stop me from seeing a movie? Probably not, but then I only go 2-3 times per year so I can ‘eat’ the extra cost. It just bugs me that they’re doing it in the first place.

    • BothSidesNow says:

      On top of the increase of the tickets, it increases the overall calculation of box office ticket sales. I understand when theaters charge more for IMAX, but for overall standard viewing, they shouldn’t charge more in an effort to recoup their losses due the pandemic. It chaps my ass that they are trying to recoup their losses during the pandemic all while having billions of dollars to weather the storm. It wasn’t the same scenario for thousands of independent business owners, vast types, that didn’t have the same money. In addition to despicable companies that robbed others, specifically small business owners, by favoring Drumpf “buddies” to drain the funds specifically for small businesses to access loans during the process. Businesses that are now memories only.

      It seems that though AMC is straddled with debt, the announcement gave the shareholders an additional 4% in value. So they have already started to recover their losses.

    • Dutch says:

      The business has changed in pandemic times. The revenue split is different for blockbusters than for other movies. Generally the longer a movie runs, the better it is for exhibitors. But these blockbusters don’t have the staying power that they did pre-pandemic. Over the past couple of years these big movies have been getting one weekend, maybe two of stellar business before revenues fall off a cliff. There have been exceptions, like Spider-Man, but in pandemic times, box office drops off 50-65 percent from the first weekend to the second. Pre-pandemic the drop-off was more like 25-40 percent. I think people are going to movies less on a whim and repeat viewings are down because consumers know they can rewatch all they on streaming in as soon as few as 45 days. As much as it sucks that those chains are jacking prices, it’s basic economics to charge more when demand is higher.

  7. Louise177 says:

    I don’t think it’s gouging considering that theaters have lost a lot of money the last couple of years and it’s just a dollar. Plus a lot of movies are streaming at the same time or after a few weeks. They’re just trying to stay in business.

  8. Christine says:

    As someone who rarely goes to movies anyway (maybe 3 a year at most), I’m fine with this. I do think it will make people second guess movies they aren’t sure are good, but that’s typically not going to be your blockbusters.

  9. Paige says:

    Movies are so bad now and even cheaper to make than ever..I would never go to a theater anymore and sit in a dirty seat with people talking to see a substandard movie for more money…

  10. Maxie says:

    I assumed theaters already did this. I would never have noticed.

  11. Steph says:

    Everything is becoming less and less accessible to working class people. People used to be able to afford tickets to sports games, movies, concerts, etc, regularly. And now they have to save up and for them like it’s a once in a lifetime luxury. Movies of all entertainment should be the most accessible. This will just drive more people away from the theater.

  12. Mama says:

    Look… I don’t mind paying a bit more IF and it is a huge IF they theater provides a better experience. If I have to put up with people talking, being on their phones, taking calls, and being really annoying then no, I won’t pay more.

  13. BB says:

    And when movie theater chains go the way of Blockbuster stores, they’ll really be puzzled as to why.