Elijah Wood: AMC’s new ticket pricing is punitive to lower income people

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For those who weren’t here yesterday, AMC announced tiered pricing for their seating. They have already rolled out this policy in some theaters. Seats in front will be discounted, seats to the sides are the same price and center seats will be increased, except for their A-club and Stubs members. These prices apply to all movies after 4pm, except for their discounted Tuesday nights. When I wrote the post on this, I tried to think about it as a consumer. Since I had no reference for what the pricing would look like, I focused more on the fact that less desirable seats would now be discounted. At one point, I mentioned getting ticked off about paying more for seats I usually sit in but since I almost always go on Discount Night, I cut that line.

But then I read Elijah Wood’s tweet yesterday morning and I realized he’d hit on something that had been bothering me. Elijah tweeted this:

While I focused on the fact that I wouldn’t have to pay the same price for crappy seats if I ended up in them, I neglected to look at people being shoved out of the center. Elijah is exactly right. Folks brought up comparisons to live theaters, sports, and concerts. And it is true, those venues have tiered pricing. But that misses the point of what Elijah is saying. Tiered seating has a long arm into history. In Roman amphitheaters, there wasn’t a cost involved, but people were separated based on class. Elizabethan theaters did charge for box seating or rooms for the gentry and ‘commoners’ paid a penny to stand on the floor for the length of the play. Sporting events in this country are ridiculously priced. You need to sell a kidney if you want to get anywhere close to the court or field. And concerts, holy cr*p. I’m still paying off the BS seats we got for the Police reunion tour.

But movies are different. First of all, they aren’t live, so everyone, theoretically, has access to them. You don’t have to be in that place at that moment for the event, everyone gets the same experience. And they are and have always been the escapism for anyone despite position, place or power. During the Depression when other businesses closed, movie houses continued. Prices were affordable – and uniform – and people were able to forget bleak reality for a little while.

I like Elijah’s use of democratic here. Movie theaters are where CEO sits next to entry-level employee. Everyone in the theater is just a movie goer, there is no special status, no label. (Except for that guy talking during the movie, he’s labeled a jerk.) You all made good arguments yesterday too, about people doing exactly what happens at most games: they’ll buy a cheap ticket and sit in the good seats. Then high school ushers will be in the middle of fights between Preferred Sightline ticket holders and the front rowers. There are many ways to help theater chains that don’t involve choking the theater goer. Bring down the cost of making movies so theaters don’t have to pay so much for them. Start by cutting their run time. Very few movies need to run over 90 minutes. All due respect to Elijah’s Hobbit franchise. I’m really glad he said this as plainly as he did.

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28 Responses to “Elijah Wood: AMC’s new ticket pricing is punitive to lower income people”

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  1. Jessic says:

    He’s absolutely right. This is what the disabled community has been dealing with for years. IF a place has accessible seats (and even with ADA most don’t), they are significantly more expensive. Several concert venues here don’t even have accessible seating and the ones that do, the tickets are at least twice what the others are. None of the voting places in the area are accessible. None of the buses that take voters to other places are accessible. It’s a whole subset of society that is continually ignored and marginalized and has been for decades.

  2. Eowyn says:

    He’s right, movies were created or intended to be cheap escapism for the masses.

    • BothSidesNow says:

      Let’s face the fact that movie prices are already expensive to begin with.

      But most importantly these are NOT live performances!! Are they going institute seat police that enter the theater multiple times to guard more expensive unsold seats? Which in turn will ruin the experience for everyone. But EW is right as these prices will hurt those who have the least amount of money.

  3. Frippery says:

    I appreciate what he is saying, and he is right, but I don’t think it will affect AMC’s plans in the least.

    Maybe if performers complain, then producers take note, and studios take note, then studios are speaking out about it and that might make AMC rethink their scheme, but yeah, I don’t see any kind of broad industry-wide solidarity against this happening.

  4. Megs283 says:

    I largely agree, with the exception that AMC movie theaters have been becoming an “upper class” experience for quite some time. Who else can drop $17 for a movie ticket? (I live in a Boston suburb, and a ticket for “knock at the cabin” at 4:45pm tomorrow is $16.29.)

    My kids and I go to a small locally owned theater that has $7 seats. Even then, I end up spending about $40 if we get popcorn and drinks, which the theater encourages, since they post that they can only survive (make money) on concessions.

  5. Dksro says:

    I am not American and I am shocked to learn that ticket prices are different depending on the seats. Wood is so right.

  6. Emmi says:

    I’ve been to a US cinema exactly once and first of all, that theater was amazing. It was clean, it didn’t smell of years of sweat and spilled drinks/food, and the seats were super comfy. So a+ for that.

    German cinemas run the gamut from offensively expensive & disgusting to affordable arthouse cinemas which are mostly refurbished older cinemas and therefore often kept in better shape/cleaner. Prices vary wildly. But in general, if you’re in a larger city and you want to take your kids to a blockbuster movie, you can easily spend close to €100 for 2 adults and 2 kids, including snacks. I don’t remember what we paid in California because I was on vacation and my bank account was having a daily meltdown anyway. But here, the cinema isn’t an affordable family activity and hasn’t been for a long time. When I was younger our cinemas had tiered seating. The back was more expensive (like 1 or 2 DM at the time) than the front.

    • Sass says:

      I’m happy to give you some more info on the American cinema as a lifelong USAin.

      As a kid we had the regular movie theater which had the newest showings and the highest prices. There was also the dollar theater in which the movies were about three to six months or even a year old, and everything – tickets, food, beverages – was a dollar. The price of the dollar theater slowly went up over the decades in correlation with regular theater prices based on inflation.

      There are also small art house/independent/local theaters which would be the only place you could catch a showing of something obscure and weird – one that comes to mind is Pan’s Labyrinth, it only showed at one art house theater in town. Ticket prices vary greatly across these establishments. I’ve paid more than a typical ticket. I’ve paid less. These were the first ones to offer alcoholic beverages to moviegoers.

      There’s also a newer experience – the dine-in theater. You have seats with a table in between every other seat and you order drinks and a meal and you have a server who brings you your order just before the movie starts. Ticket prices are the same as a regular theater, but the menu is like any fast-casual local spot in that the prices range from $2 to $20.

      The final experience I can think of is the drive-in. Sadly I’ve yet to experience this for myself. A huge lot is equipped with a massive screen (usually on an empty billboard sign) and you park your car and there’s a speaker in each parking spot that provides audio. There are concessions. Usually two films are shown on either side of the screen (back to front) simultaneously. I’m not sure of price.

      Like you mentioned in Europe, it can vary greatly in terms of cleanliness – dollar theaters and regular theaters have been the worst for me in terms of hospitality and cleanliness but even wilder is the regular priced theaters are even LESS likely in my experience to have friendly staff and clean seats/bathrooms. And with tickets and concessions, we easily drop $100 for a family of four anytime we go. So we go maybe once a year.

  7. TIFFANY says:

    Agree about movie running times. This wouldn’t be a issue if every movies had a minimum budget of 100 million to start. When these movies have close to 3 hour running time, that reduces screening and therefore the capital has to be made up from somewhere. So this has to start at production and knowing a quality movie can be made at 40 million and a quality editor can do what needs to be done.

  8. Kirsten says:

    I think he’d be right if what they were doing was raising the ticket prices for the better seats and putting an already somewhat costly experience even further out of reach for folks. But they’re lowering the price of seats that tend not to fill in hopes of getting more people there, and leaving the other tickets the same price. Even if it’s not the best seat, that’s making something more accessible, not less.

    • lemontwist says:

      But they are raising the prices for some seats. From the beginning of the post: “Seats in front will be discounted, seats to the sides are the same price and center seats will be increased…”

      I think this is a terrible idea and is going to turn a lot of people off. Dealing with tiered seating for concerts, plays, airplanes etc. doesn’t exactly bring about warm fuzzy feelings. If I were on the fence about going to see something in the theater I could see this swaying me to just watch it at home.

  9. @poppedbubble says:

    “And they are and have always been the escapism for anyone despite position, place or power.” We forget that not too long ago Black people had to sit in the back…not just of the bus, but movie theaters too. It’s why my parents rarely went, even after that policy was abolished. To much anger. Imagine trying see a stupid movie with your girlfriends and being made to sit in the back and having the usher watching you the whole time to make sure you don’t…what…I’m not sure, but don’t.

  10. SarahCS says:

    He makes a very valid point, on top of the fact that it costs SO much to go and see a film already. I haven’t been since before covid and even then it was only a few times a year on a Wednesday night when you could do buy one get one free to make the cost more reasonable.

    I also have very strong feelings about the runtime thing. So many movies are WAY too long and not mush is done with the extra screentime. I love a 90 minute movie and I would love these to come back more strongly. Interestingly I was just reading a Buzzfeed thing on movies people felt did or did not justify a long runtime. Overall most long movies just end up having content that seems like filler or overly complicated plots/subplots. Give us good clean storytelling and editing please. Or make a tv series. Or two good movies.

  11. Michael says:

    I laugh at the notion that these theaters are going to be able to enforce this new tiered ticket pricing. There will be fights and people will buy cheap seats and move to more expensive seats and “mean mug” anybody who tries to tell them to move. Are they planning to hire more security to enforce this rule? That means they have to spend more money. Are they planning to keep the theater cleaner or maybe enforce rules about not talking or using your phone all through the movie? Frankly, I never go to the movies anymore and when I did it was always the matinee so I guess this is not relevant to me but it feels like another dagger in the heart of movie theaters.

  12. AnneL says:

    I completely agree with Wood and am glad he’s making these statements.

    On the other hand, AMC is a business. Fewer people are going to see movies in theaters now, which is one reason they have jacked up prices. I guess they figured having “tiered pricing” might help their profit margin while offering different options to viewers. If their other alternative was just to raise prices for all tickets yet again, I prefer them to offer the “lesser seats” at lower prices.

    It’s disappointing, but not surprising.

    I almost never go to the movie theater myself. When I do, it’s because I’m dying to see a movie or really want the cinematic experience of a particular film (like “1917”). I think if other theaters go the way of AMC, then movies will become more like theater or concerts. People WILL go if they really want to, and those who can’t afford the better seats will just sit in the cheaper ones. But hopefully movies will never get to the point of being as expensive as concerts and pro sporting events, because those are outrageous.

  13. blue says:

    Part of this may stem from the astronomical salaries & back-end compensation paid to Hollywood-adjacent stars, directors, etc. Those salaries make up a large part of the cost to make a film and is hopefully recouped with box-office ticket sales. The theaters pay distributers to run the movie for a certain number of days.
    For about 40 years, theaters started moving away from downtown 1 or 2 screen theaters, with maybe a 10-14 day run-time, to 16-24 screen multiplexes in remote locations with acres of parking. 20 or so years ago, the scene shifted as those outlying sites became large corporate office campuses or mass housing sites. Urban renewals & upgrades with new city-center parking garages included new multi-screen theaters.
    Meanwhile, “stars” get huge pay. I love Meryl Streep but is she really worth >$5,000,000 per movie? Gal Gadot=$20 million for Red Notice?
    High ticket prices keep the less affluent out of theaters & don’t get me started on what pro athletes get paid. The days are long gone when the average parent could take the kids to watch a pro ball game. Skiing is also now only for the affluent. Lift tickets in Tahoe run around $200 a day or more & often must be booked in advance.

    • TwinFalls says:

      Off topic but yeah the price to enjoy a snow sport is insane.

      They should have just added an additional discount day versus this hot mess.

  14. Christine says:

    My biggest question with all of this is who is going to enforce seating? AMC and many other theaters have buy ahead tickets where you choose your seat in advance and everyone pretty much sticks to that. But what’s to stop someone from buying a shitty front row seat for $5 less, then when the movie starts and they notice several seats in a “prime” row are unclaimed, they move to that spot? Now not only do you get to listen to people cough and snot and talk while you’re trying to watch a movie, but you’ll get Karens loudly complaining about poor people. It’s a lose/lose situation and I cannot believe it got so far as to be announced.

    • samuraj says:

      I lived in Germany for a long time. The bigger movie theaters that belong to a franchise have been doing this for years, if not a couple decades. The seats in the far back are the most expensive, then the middle seats and the most affordable are the first few front rows.
      You buy the ticket in advance and if necessary shoo the person sitting in your seat politely away. No-one, I mean NO-ONE has ever complained about poor people in the movie theater. Well, I guess in the US it may be different. And of course people will change seats once they think everyone who bought a ticket is already seated. I did it. My friends did it. No biggie. No-one enforces that seats are not changed once the movie began. So what?
      In the past in the US I was rather p*ssed when I sometimes had to pay full price for a crappy seat in the first two rows.
      Having said that, when I was a student, which is about 17 years ago, I would already have to pay between 16 and 18 Euros back then for prime time, regular seats. Then if it was a movie in 3D a couple extra euros and if it was extra-long, another Euro. Movie theaters have been fleecing people in Germany for eons. And I assume it has only gotten worse. But the drama that some people are creating here is unwarranted.

  15. Sass says:

    The people: hey movie theaters, your prices are prohibitive and your business practices belong in a pre-Covid world

    Theaters: we hear you and – great news! We’ve changed and made it WORSE!

  16. Jj says:

    Late to this, but having different priced seating in a setting like a movie theater, with relatively lax enforcement, seems to present unnecessary risk for some sort of conflict between patrons. And given our society today, that could easily escalate to people getting shot.

  17. anon says:

    I don’t understand the logic that a movie’s budget and run time affects the cost of the movie ticket. A 5 million dollar 120 minute movie and a 300 million 90 minute movie have the same ticket price… last time I checked.

  18. Gelya says:

    Good for him for speaking out on this. I was angry about this announcement yesterday. It is reward the rich, slap the working class mentality again.

    I wanted to see the LOTR trilogy when it was shown at our theater recently. I decided to stream it instead. I made popcorn on my professional popper that I bought for $50. Had a Pepsi with crushed ice. My refrigerator crushes it. Watched the trilogy on my nice TV with surround sound, sitting in my comfy chair, cuddled in blankets and puppies.

    Sorry AMC not giving you my hard earned working class money for cheap seats.

  19. The Recluse says:

    This is such a bad idea.
    They keep moaning about the decline of moviegoers and then raise the prices, which only discourages people from coming. Perhaps they should lower the prices and see what happens.
    The turnout on 5 buck Tuesdays at our movie theater tends to be really good. Although our theater decided to up the prices on the first showing matinees by two bucks, which was annoying.
    I prefer to sit near the aisle anyway, so this pricing wouldn’t have affected me much.
    The principle of the matter is so dumb.