Brick & Mortar Meltdown Reaches Movie Theaters

Is jacking up ticket prices helpful in this environment?

We keep hearing the good news, and we love it. During the four-day weekend, “Star Wars: The Last Jedi,” became the highest-grossing movie of 2017 with 58.1 million tickets sold in the US and $517 million in ticket sales so far, according to movie data provider The Numbers. “The Last Jedi” was released on December 15 and grossed $220 million that weekend, making it the movie with the biggest weekend of the year.

And it continues to sell tickets into 2018. This, as the Wall Street Journal put it, gave Walt Disney “another banner year at the box office that left rival studios fighting for leftovers.”

The top ten movies in US ticket sales in 2017:

  1. “The Last Jedi” (Walt Disney): $517 million
  2. “The Beauty and Beast” (Walt Disney) $504 million
  3. “Wonder Woman” (Warner Bros.) $413 million
  4. “Guardians of the Galaxy” (Walt Disney) with $389 million
  5. “Spider-Man: Homecoming” (Sony) $334 million
  6. “It” (Warner Bros.) $327 million
  7. “Thor: Ragnarok” (Walt Disney): $311 million
  8. “Despicable Me 3” (Universal): $267 million
  9. “Logan”(20th Century Fox): $226 million
  10. “The Fate of the Furious” (Universal) $226 million

These are big numbers. And ticket sales for “The Last Jedi,” which continue into 2018, will likely remain behind the record $937 million in domestic box office sales raked in by “The Force Awakens” in 2015.

And that may be symptomatic.

The number of actual tickets sold in US movie theaters in 2017 fell 3.6% year-over-year to 1.25 billion tickets, according to The Numbers. That’s down 21% from “Peak Ticket Sales” in 2002, when box offices sold 1.58 billion tickets. In fact, the number of tickets sold in 2017 was the lowest since 1995.

This chart shows what’s going on in terms of filling seats in brick-and-mortar movie theaters in the US:

Sharp price increases per ticket Band-Aided the pain of dropping ticket sales until 2012. Since then, even those price increases haven’t been enough. According to The Numbers, the average ticket price has more than doubled from $4.35 in 1995 to $8.90 in 2017.

Only $8.90?

I have to say that it has been years since I paid less than $10 a ticket for a major movie. For example, a ticket for “The Last Jedi” goes for $22.49 — not for a family of three, but for just one adult — at one of the AMCs in San Francisco. Not exactly an encouragement to go see it. But there are cheaper movies out there, and there are cheaper cities too, and national averages might not parallel personal experience.

Since Peak-Ticket-Sales in 2002, the average price has jumped 53% from $5.81 to $8.90 in 2017. At the same time, the number of tickets sold has plunged 21%. Connection? Maybe. One thing’s for sure: When ticket sales drop, the industry has to raise prices to make up for the drop; and the more the industry makes up with price increases for dropping ticket sales, the more consumers start looking for alternatives.

Thus overall ticket sales in dollars only inched down 0.8% in 2017 to $11.13 billion. Fewer and fewer people go to the movies, but they pay more and more each time, and as ticket prices have soared (right scale), overall ticket sales in dollars (left scale) are only languishing rather than plunging:

The number of wide releases by the six major studios – Warner Bros, Walt Disney, 20th Century Fox, Paramount Pictures, Sony Pictures, and Universal – has also been on a downward trend since 2006. In 2017, they released just 79 movies, down 38% from 2006. Since 1995, only 2013 was lower. “Other” studios released 46 movies, the highest since 2007:

Movie theaters are an essential part of brick-and-mortar.

The Commerce Department doesn’t include ticket sales in its retail sales figures. It includes ticket sales in “admissions to the arts, movies, sporting events, and other entertainment and recreational activities,” which figure into the vast group of “personal consumption expenditures,”  not retail sales. Yet ticket sales figure into the scenario of malls where many theaters a located, and they’re part of the broader brick-and-mortar environment that is under full attack by the Internet.

People can watch movies at home in many ways. Movies can be purchased at the spur of them moment from Amazon, Netflix, and others. They can be streamed, downloaded, or obtained via DVDs and other technologies. If people can wait a while, they can watch the recent releases by the big studios when they become available online. Consumers have never had so many sit-at-home alternatives to going to the movies.

While studios have been able to prop up their revenues more or less with ever higher ticket prices, and while they also cash in massively from digital sales, fewer and fewer people are showing up at the movie theaters.

Theaters have responded by making seats wider and more comfortable, and by providing more legroom, and by giving a cushy feel to make sort of an event out of it – rather than an economy-class experience. This is supposed to justify the ticket prices. But the extortionately priced soda and popcorn (what they put on it is not butter) are still the same.

And as the declining number of tickets sold shows – despite increases in the population and the surge of the millennials into prime movie-watching age – it appears to be a losing battle to get Americans to go out to brick-and-mortar movie theaters. And jacking up ticket prices in this environment of nearly unlimited choices isn’t exactly helpful.

Rents are tanking in some of the most expensive metros. Even Seattle is cooling off, awash in new supply. Read… Suddenly, US Rental Markets Diverge by Bedrooms

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  112 comments for “Brick & Mortar Meltdown Reaches Movie Theaters

  1. interesting says:

    Movies suck. It’s nothing but virtue signalling on the big screen and I for one have zero interest in the latest Hollywood “remake” or episode #whatever of the latest franchise.

    financialization has hit the movies in that the studios go with the known money maker…….and nothing new.

    • OutLookingIn says:

      Totally agree.
      The entertainment fare served up by the main stream Hollywood studios and associated clique of insider’s stinks.
      I would not walk across the street let alone pay anything, to view any of the so-called movie entertainment garbage served up for the mindless mass’s.

    • FDR Liberal says:

      Agreed. The reason, however, isn’t due to the US market. It is because it is cheaper to market worldwide a redux of Capt. America, Star Wars, Despicable Me, Spiderman, Fast and Furious, etc. It is simple movie name recognition and the moviegoers are the suckers that pay for an inferior redux.

      The last part II movie sequel that was better than the original was The Godfather…

    • Maximus Minimus says:

      Interesting…interesting. Haven’t been to a movie theater in the last fifteen years or so, so thanks for the update. The last thing that stuck to memory is the half an hour of advertisements for upcoming movies at full blast, and I left my earplugs at home.
      But it was the fresh smell of popcorn that reminded me that I was, indeed, in a movie theater.
      But then, I only paid 15 dollars for the ordeal.

      • Frederick says:

        Same here I think the last time for me was on Houston St in Lower Manhattan in 2003 and the tickets were ten bucks a pop It was a foreign film forget which one

    • RagnarD says:

      There have always been crappy / low quality movies in the theaters.
      Great / Excellent movies I’ve seen relatively recently:
      Deadpool, Guardians of Galaxy(I’ve not seen #2 yet), Sing Street, Arrival, Hell or High Water, Jackie, Silence, Sing Street, Finding Dory, Sausage Party,
      Ex Machina, Sicario, The Big Short, 45 Years, Straight Out of Compton, Dope
      I saw all of these in the theater. Paid either $6 on discount Tues at the megaplex, or ~$10, either at the Megaplex or the Art Theater.

  2. Prairies says:

    A lot of blame to go around for lagging movie theatre growth. The studios take an insane percentage of the ticket sales – I think the number for the studio starts at 90% the first week(might be closer to 95%) and tapers up to a 50-50 split during the 5th week or later.
    With studios gouging theatres we then see theatres gouge customers. The result of which ends up being customers staying home, paying reasonable prices to watch at home or even pirate the movies online.
    Netflix movies might be the shove to knock off the studios. They just need more like Bright, it is a great movie.

    • Harris says:

      That’s not how its worked for many years now, since at least the late 90’s when most of the large theater companies went bankrupt.

      The distributors now get a straight percentage of net ticket sales.

      Disney made news several weeks ago when they announced that they wanted to receive 65% of ticket sales in the coming future.

      • Prairies says:

        I should have worded it differently, the main point I was making is that the brick and mortar theatre still only gets the %10 gate if they show a movie on opening weekend. Doesn’t it seem odd that the building where all the material is required to display the media gets less than some middle man who doesn’t make the product or show the product. Concession prices would come down if Disney made 65% and included the distribution while the theatre gets 35%. But that would be a logical business model, logic seems to be out the window.

  3. Gee says:

    It’s now much easier to stream…ten years ago it was a painful hookup from computer to TV, now any device can do it in a way that anyone brainless can figure it out. The cost of streaming is practically nothing, and TV sucks worse all the time, yet everyone had it…So, switching is happening, especially with faster wireless speeds. Meanwhile, TVs are cheaper and larger, and more of a substitute for the big screen. Plus, usually no sticky floors in your living room and ya know, you can pause the thing when you have to use the loo. And you almost always do, because youve loaded up on $20 popcorn and soda and sat through a half our of f-ing commercials. Why anyone goes to the movies at all is beyond me. Let it die.

    • monday1929 says:

      Yes, it’s the commercials that drove me away too. Why am I paying to see commercials?

      • Ricardo says:

        > Why am I paying to see commercials? <

        Exactly and people do the same when buying t-shirts or clothing/shoes that carry the brand name. I rebelled in the 1970's when they started that fad and then expected me to pay money for the article. No sir if you want me to advertise your product then either you pay me or give me free product to flash around. TV has to be the worst for repetitive mindless commercials so I don't even bother watching that either. Some will likely think I must lead a boring life. Not at all. I read, farm, do art work, plan projects for improving the house. Never bored round here but those mindless commercials are sure boring.

    • California Bob says:

      Last time I went to a flick I almost got in a fight with an Indian guy sitting next to me playing with his cell phone, even after the PSA telling people to shut them off. Don’t need an assault rap.

      I now wait until they’re rentable on cable; make my own popcorn–with REAL butter–and drink beer.

    • scott says:

      Good point about TVs being cheaper now. Even a nice surround sound system is cheap. The fun as a kid, was, it was The Big Screen! And a social event with friends. Also, I think their are lots of series that fill the consumers appetite, which was not the case 20 years ago. I still remember Freddie kruger in NMOES and Star Wars when i was 6; how I thought that CG was amazing, is beyond me :) which also brings in the point of rising costs of production to keep pace with the viewers sophistication.

  4. HB Guy says:

    One reason for the declining ticket sales, especially between Memorial Day and Labor Day 2017, was a dearth of any movies worth viewing. While Hollyweird was busy bashing Pres. Trump, their productions nosedived. Serves them right.

    Another point: you can only get so many miles out of a retread. Most of the movies on the above “Top 10” are either sequels, prequels or some other variation on a tired theme. Maybe instead of political activism Hollyweird could actually try to be creative and who knows, maybe sales would rebound.

  5. Guido says:

    “When ticket sales drop, the industry has to raise prices to make up for the drop; and the more the industry makes up with price increases for dropping ticket sales, the more consumers start looking for alternatives.”

    Is it possibly the other way around? If you are running a movie theater and you need to make money than before, won’t you identify the side of the bread that is buttered aka the customer who has price elasticity and service him? If you were to sell a ticket at 1$ a piece and try to get 10 people in to fill 10 seats, you’d make 10$. OTOH, if you were to bump up the price to 2$ and you can get 6 people in, you’ll be making 2$ more. I suspect this is what’s going on. The movies suck and the list of movies you listed are all franchises. So only the die hard fans will come to see it. So, you are better off squeezing them then expecting the normal person to come watch the movie.

    The movies face competition from shorter attention span of consumers who’d rather be on social media and get faster and unpredictable thrills than be watching something very inane. Sports used to fill that lacunae but twitter and Facebook are free. As is internet porn, if one were into that. I am also sure that the movie theater owners analyze watching habits of Netflix viewers and understand what they watch. Probably, that can explain the need to let go of people who won’t pay much but want to dine at all you can eat buffets.

    That said, the movie theaters do segment their viewers for pricing purposes, which is why you always had different prices at different times of the day.

    Also, I hear they are facing competition from Movie pass. Does data support this hypothesis?

    You may begin to trash my argument :).

    • Wolf Richter says:

      MoviePass buys tickets at the retail price and sells them heavily subsidized via subscriptions. In other words, investors are subsidizing moviegoers. And yet, still ticket sales fell in 2017.

      Sure, any time an activity is heavily subsidized, the subsidies can prop up volume (a little). But how long are investors willing to subsidize going to a movie?

      • California Bob says:

        “But how long are investors willing to subsidize going to a movie?”

        Lemme guess … As long as they’re willing to subsidize a ‘ride-sharing’ service?

      • Neo says:

        Novel concept movies are a thing of the past. Many great films came out during the 1990s. How many exciting/ interesting/thought provoking films were produced in the last five years?

        Not many.

        It’s all just a game of beat the franchise to death with a rubber hose. It’s the message, not the medium that’s killing theaters.

        People still want to socialize outside their homes and movies fill that void. It’s why people live in places like San Francisco. You can watch a big screen tv anywhere.

        Your TV is not, I repeat, not your friend and cannot replace the need for human interaction.

        • georgie says:

          Yup I agree; the 90s were a golden age for some really good films, and I would pay to see them now but they are few & far between here in the UK. As for prices, the inflation is enormous (i reckon something like 120 to 150% since 2000), and taking my young son to a movie on a saturday, a matinee which was always cheaper in the past, still cost £15 per person – I definitely won’t be doing that again in a hurry; i’ll just get better speakers, turn out the lights in the house and invite his friends round to watch at home in future. Socialising is all very well, but at the price on offer now, it’s definitely not worth doing at a cinema.

    • KOL says:

      All the movie theaters I have been to now sell wine and beer at the concession- upper end, and lower end. I am in MA -not sure if that is legal in other states. The food choices are becoming like a snack bar. The mainstream theaters I have been to are almost empty, but the ones showing Indie films in wealthier areas like Great Barrington are still packed. There was a line on a very cold night to see “The Shape of Water”. Good movies are needed to get me to part with $30 for movie, popcorn, and soda.

  6. Went to see a movie with fam on New Years Eve.

    All told, family of four plus popcorn, two drinks and candy bought en route from gas station cost in excess of $75 (im in Ohio).

    Wow. and the Fed’s worried they can’t devalue our dollar fast enough…

    The in-your-face has turned into a spit and punch to our faces…

    • Tom Cruise's Mother says:

      Thank you for contributing to the $26,000,000 my son made by showing up for work for a couple of months.

      • The Church of Scientology says:

        And thank YOU for the millions your son has contributed over the years he’s “worked” for us.


  7. William Smith says:

    The gilded “millenials” are used to seeing everything on their phone. They don’t even know how to focus on anything larger as their eyesight has been trained from very young to only work with a mobile device format. And who wants to watch regurgitated crap produced by a committee of administrators, lawyers and accountants anyway. Make something worth seeing and maybe they might put some more bums on those ever widening seats. The same goes for the current “products” of the music industry. Most new albums have (at max) only the one “hit” on them (such as a certain escapee from one of the largest recently “hiatused” boy bands) and the rest is filler crap. Some time ago, the true (long term) songwriters loaded almost 50% of their albums with hits. Now its’s all “collabs” and crap written by committee. Bring back the innovative “creative vision” which can only come through one person (not a committee) and maybe there might be something to get interested in again. The great movie studios and the the great record companies took great risks backing quirky individuals. I have yet to see a team of lawyers and accountants make anything other than a hot steamy pile of smelly “stuff”. And, please, will someone tell them that it is not all about how much CGI they can cram in. It’s actually about the story!

  8. cdr says:

    We just saw a couple of recent flicks. For 2 adult tickets at our local theater (newly remodeled, 4k screens, maybe 8 total screen count, big sound, nice seats) $6 each for tickets. Popcorn and drink with unlimited refills. Total cost for each movie, about $23. Darn that expensive popcorn. Love living in small town Heartland USA. The new Thor and the new Star Wars. Don’t tell the Fed about deflation.

    • Frederick says:

      Just like pizza prices I pay 20 dollars for the same pie you can buy upstate NY two for one Oh well Cost of doing business or some such rubbish

  9. Dennis says:

    We really just got tired of the actors pushing their politics down our throat and stopped going about 5 years ago. Now just Netflex’s. Stopped watching football last year after the kneeling and haven’t missed any of it. You vote with your dollars

    • Bookdoc says:

      Heck-college football is better anyway! (Go Bucks!)

      • Frederick says:

        Very true High School football is better still or wrestling and you support the kids not some spoiled overpaid fool

    • Raymond Rogers says:

      Same here. When you watch a movie or see a comedy show you go to relax, not to have somebody’s views shoved down your throat. We have cut back dramatically.

      • Smingles says:

        What movies are you guys watching where political views are “shoved down your throat”?

        Sounds horrible.

        I usually just watch the movies that sound interesting to me. The only movie I saw in theaters in 2017 was Dunkirk. I thought it was really fantastic and watching it on TV simply wouldn’t do it justice. Can’t remember any politics being shoved down my throat, either.

  10. Martin says:

    Much better selection at the RedBox than the theatre, and some movies will actually have actors instead of CGI crap. The big Mall movie places can’t croak soon enough !

  11. Rates says:

    Here’s my number 1 problem with watching movies in theaters nowadays. Shitty patrons. People who can’t stop chatting. Parents that refuse to keep their children quiet. People who go up and down levels by stomping their foot down. WTF? And no these are not limited to “foreigners”, plenty of locals are doing it too. One time I was in AMC Kabuki and the tech bros were so loud, people almost came to blow. I mean seriously, if you want to see the future of this country, just go to a movie theater near you. People just don’t care about other people anymore.

    BUT given all that I still go to movie theaters. And that’s because of this app: First year it’s like 9 dollars a month and you get to watch one movie every single day (no 3D or IMAX though). I kid you not.

    Since enrolling, I’ve watched close to 30 movies. I’ve recouped my money for the year and more.

    And no I do not work for MoviePass.

    • RM says:

      I too stopped going to the movies because of the noisy disrespectful patrons. People talking loudly throughout the movie to each other or to their cell phones. The theater lit up by the glow of hundreds of cell phone screens as people text and talk throughout the movie. People walking around the theater. People bringing toddlers to scary and violent movies, and the toddlers naturally cry from fright (not to mention they should be in bed, not in a theater). Anyone who dares complain can expect to get beaten half to death. The theater parking lot is dangerous, you can get assaulted on the way to your car or swept up into a fight between “teens.” I stopped going to movie theaters for the same reason I stopped going to malls; the same demographic reason.

      • That’s television watching behavior. Television does not command your attention in a temporal stream. You get up, walk around, come back and its the same thing. Scorcese said he isn’t sure film is an art, which has something to do with the influence of television. Now that TV is hot media, HD. We cross the boundary between film and TV more easily. Some people are watching Star Wars on their smart phone?

      • Frederick says:

        Cell phones/iPhones are the MOST annoying anti social device ever invented I by the way refuse to own one My wife does and that works for us When I head out fishing or hiking the last thing I want is somebody calling me

    • Wolf Richter says:

      Enjoy the investor subsidy you’re getting from MoviePass while you can. These subsidies don’t last forever. Investors might get tired of paying for your entertainment :-]

      • Rates says:

        Wolf, I am under no illusion. This thing is not sustainable, which is why I immediately went off to watch as many movies as possible once I got the card. MoviePass charged the entire year in advance so imagine if they had shut down immediately. I am probably creditor no 100000 in the hierarchy. Zero chance of getting any money back.

        But how is this different from Uber, etc. The economics just simply do NOT work and yet investors keep pouring money in.

        • Wolf Richter says:

          You’re right. It’s not different — Tesla, Chesapeake, Netflix…. they’re all consuming investor money to keep doing what they’re doing. Interesting times.

      • Javert Chip says:


        Always like your numbers & graphs – great insights.

        The US population has grown from 266M in1995, to 325M in 2017.

        Using your 1.25B “Movie Tickets Sold In US” for both 1995 & 2017, it was easy (and surprising) to calculate movie tickets per person:

        o 1995 = 1.25B/266M = 4.7 tickets/person/year
        o 2017 = 1.25B/325M = 3.8 tickets/person/year

        That seems like a pretty big drop in “per capita” ticket sales. Stated another way, even the 22% increase ninth US population did not increase ticket sales between 1995 & 2017.

      • The misAllocation of capital investment due to ZIRP/NIRP Federal Reserve policies is a known economic issue. These “subsidies” don’t last, and these types of situations end badly.

    • Drater says:

      I would pay much more than $9/month not to spend time in the theaters watching garbage movies with rude people

    • Raymond Rogers says:

      That spinds loke a great deal if the movies were worth lwatching.

  12. Orion says:

    I’m young and I’ll tell you everyone I know streams. Plus if we wait a couple weeks the streams go from camera quality to HD. Plus with Kodi, which is free, and other resources who needs Netflix or Amazon. Not too many of us download pirated movies when we can just stream anything. Saw the new Star Wars before it even came out here in the USSA

    • Prairies says:

      Those streams are torrent site content shared through a single app that consolidates torrent links. You are streaming pirated content, no different than downloading it. Why do you think handheld camera quality videos are on it?

      • Orion says:

        I’m not making any profit so I DON’T CARE, and that’s how a lot of us young ppl feel. I’m not harming anyone… So keep riding your high horse while I’m paying/going to college myself, have a kid, and always broke. ; )

        • Rates says:

          I am not supporting high theater prices, but let’s flip that situation. You said “I’m not harming anyone” by not paying for somebody’s work, so if we don’t pay for your work, we are not harming you right?

          Having a kid is a choice, does not mean you get to steal someone else’s work. You have no money, that’s fine, but don’t watch.

        • Javert Chip says:

          Assuming he could produce anything of value, I wonder how he’d feel if it was stolen?

          Sounds like a serious ethics problem.

        • Prairies says:

          At least you can see my horse, thanks for noticing. I only point out it’s pirated content because you said ” Not too many of us download pirated movies when we can just stream anything” so I figured you may have been mis-informed of your source material and would like to know there is no difference between a download and a stream. I didn’t know your feelings were in the line of fire, my apologies. Now I must ride off, I have to check the torrents for my weekend movie of choice :P

    • cdr says:

      “download pirated movies” vs streaming pirated movies.

    • Anonymous.1 says:

      The stats for the streaming site is lit.


  13. Bobber says:

    Maybe they should eliminate the cable model that charges you the same price regardless of content quality. Why should a $500M budget blockbuster action movie cost the same as a $30M low budget drama? People who appreciate good movies with plots and character development are getting screwed. That’s why only punks go to the movies.

    I’ve been going only once a year for the last 15 years because the movie quality is so bad.

    • Javert Chip says:


      QUESTION: “Why should a $500M budget blockbuster action movie cost the same as a $30M low budget drama? ”

      ANSWER: Because maybe the $30M low budget flick is better than the $500M computer generated pile of crap?

      • Sven says:

        Pretty sure that Bobber was implying that the low-budget but higher quality movie should cost more per ticket than the tired action movie.

  14. Petunia says:

    We went to see the Jedi movie only because our son dragged us out to do a family thing. It was $50 for 3 adults, soda, popcorn, candy, and a tee shirt. I could have waited for it to be on TV.

    We spent the summer looking for movies to go to and only came up with one, “American Made” which was really good. Instead I watched foreign dramas on Netflix.

    • Mark says:

      I have zero interest in comic book superheroes, so I don’t go to the movie theatre much anymore.

      Dunkirk was worth viewing in the theatre for the sound alone and Blade Runner 2049 was also very well done, but everything else I can catch on Netflix/Amazon if I’m desperate enough for mindless entertainment.

      Speaking of mindless entertainment, I “cut the cord” again. Turns out I wasn’t missing a whole lot in the first place. Getting my Sundays back from football, never hearing talking heads scream at each other on cable “news”, AND saving $80/month…it’s a no brainer.

  15. Paulo says:

    I haven’t been to a movie theatre in years, and the provided list of the top offerings aren’t worth crossing the street for imo…Star Wars included. Modern movies seem to be less about acting and rely too much on computer generated special effects.

    We recently watched Mudbound on Netflix. Depressing but beautiful film. I pretty much quit watching theatre flicks after Saving Private Ryan came out. My Dad was in the D Day surge and sensationalizing bullet sounds and death seemed to epitomize so much of what is wrong with our culture. Today’s fare of car crashes that roll dozens of times, transforming robots, or inaccurate historical records with celebrity cameos, and don’t forget about serial killers and psychos who cannibalize their victims….’nuff said.

    Why do people need to spend big bucks for 2 hours of escape?

    A few weeks ago an Turner Classics they showed the old Steve McQueen Bullet. Now that was a car chase scene of the ages.


    • cienfuegos says:

      “sensationalizing bullet sounds and death seemed to epitomize so much of what is wrong with our culture. ”


  16. When ticket sales drop, the industry has to raise prices to make up for the drop

    Pretty soon there will be only person watching the movie, Jeff Bezos maybe, he will pay the entire cost of production.

  17. RangerOne says:

    I find the overall movie experience has vastly improved since I was a child.

    They still have overpriced food, but now I cant get a $12 Manhattan cocktail as opposed to a soda. Sets are reserved, they are leather recliners. The theater is smaller with a higher quality screen, sound and better all around seating.

    Prices though have certainly leaped due to these luxury theaters taking over. As a kid movies at prime time cost $7.50. Average ticket now is between $16 – $18.

    However I will note that if you do a morning movie you can cut that price down to about $8 per adult.

    The fact that a lot of movies today are garbage, or seem to be because I have lost my taste for most simple movies as an adult I think is more just typical generation gap complaining. Blockbusters have always largely sucked, cash ins have gotten a little worse with China market eating up shit movies.

    The only throw away shows I still like are Marvel movies but that is straight appeal to my inner child. I find the new star wars movies to be marginally watchable though the ret-con is bullshit compared to the real post Jedi story line which has been in decent books for decades.

    I think they made a mistake attempting to lead in with the old cast. Simply because they were too old to write a movie any of us wanted to see. They should have just gone way into the past or future and done something new.

    I approve of franchise movies if they manage to write a halfway competent scripts. However this seems to be the exception as most of the time a blockbuster can get away with terrible editing, no script and shit load of explosions and still break $1 billion dollars with the China market. See the entire Transformers franchise which would die if it were a US only flick.

  18. alex in san jose AKA digital Detroit says:

    Movies are just too expensive. I got Amazon Prime because I come out ahead on shipping charges and can get refunds when things simply don’t show up (it happens pretty often) or I don’t want the item after all (as Amazon puts it, wrong size wrong color …) it’s handy for getting things that simply can’t be found in my area (actual replacement heads for a Sonicare electric toothbrush? Forget about it!) but it seems I can watch movies too. It was hard to figure out but secret is to: first have Amazon Prime. Then Google how to watch movies on Amazon Prime.

    • California Bob says:

      “… actual replacement heads for a Sonicare electric toothbrush? Forget about it!) …”

      Costco has ’em (yes, even the old style for my ancient/original Sonicare).

  19. James says:

    Matinee is still $5 for my area in Michigan. Just buy your fast food and bring it in your backpack and good to go.

  20. DK says:

    Netflix, Amazon prime, YouTube, etc… I’ve got a 60″ TV and prefer movies made decades ago. Done!

  21. Petedivine says:

    I usually wait 3 months then watch the movie de-jour on VUDU streaming. I lounge in my wonderful leather sofa, with my big TV with surround sound, and I have a nice glass of wine or perhaps a martini. I stopped going to the movie theater because I hate people that put their feet up on the back of the chairs. It’s disrespectful. I hate having to deal with that. I hate people that fart, talk during the movie, kids that cry, people that answer their phones, eat like wild cows, overflow their arm rests…I guess I’m a hater. So, I stream the movie at home and I’m so much happier.

  22. Znayko says:

    I think Wolf too concerned about retail and so on. The good question is how tall building are doing. There is real frenzy in construction of tall buildings for commercial usage. The good question is how they filled, what percentage of them is used. For example, if there is house or one store commercial property it’s easily to spot is anyone inside or it’s vacant. But when there is 100 meter long building, you don’t know allocation of office space. The media is telling us that there is shortage of office spaces. Is it fake news? Each tall building can easily cost 100 millions to construct. And compare to retail spaces they have heavy weight. May be it can be evaluated using power or water consumption.

    • Wolf Richter says:

      Vacancies in office buildings are rising. In some cities, like Houston, vacancies have surged with a vengeance. In other cities, office space is tight. I write about office space on a quarterly basis for a few cities when the data becomes available, for example here:

      Everything its turn.

      Retail is part of commercial real estate (malls, etc.) and has its own category, just like office or industrial.

    • alex in san jose AKA digital Detroit says:

      Znayko – Where I am there’s tons and tons of empty space. The guy I work for and I were really surprised, when we were told we have to leave this dump, we thought we’d have to go up into North Fremont to find an affordable place. But nope, we found a fine place a mile from here, which is walking distance to PayPal and near a lot of stuff like the San Jose airport.

      There are tons of places big and small. 250 sf up to … how big do you want to go?

      And they’re building more …. tons of projects with businesses at the base level and apartments or offices above. I can go up and down 1st street and count more empty buildings every time I think about it, empty ex-banks, etc.

      Getting back to movies we couldn’t even keep a movie theater open downtown here so now it’s just a backdrop for a small hobo camp.

  23. economicminor says:

    In Portland Oregon there is a couple of brothers that started buying up old theaters and other vintage building a couple decades ago. The theaters offer real food and alcohol… They aren’t outrageously priced either.. The just keep expanding, buying more. They produce their own beer and now whisky and wine..

    When in Portland, I almost always visit one of their establishments because the food is really good, the atmosphere is great and the prices are reasonable.

    They even put on vintage movies some nights and there are always people there.

    It could be that the old theater business just needs to change.

    • California Bob says:

      Do people behave in these theaters, or do they have ushers that look like The Rock?

    • Frederick says:

      When I lived in Sag Harbor and actually did go to the theatre occasionally I was lucky enough to share the theatre with some famous people Once after the lights came on I realized the family in front of me was the Spielberg’s and once in I ran into Alan Alda in the men’s room I used to see Ron Browns widow in town all the time and ran into a very drunk Alec Baldwin going for coffee at 6AM He and I went through wicked divorces simultaneously He once stated that he’s been on the wagon since 2000 That was untue

    • Baritone Woman says:

      In my neck of the woods we have an Alamo Drafthouse cinema with the features you mentioned. That, plus a couple of art movie houses in the county are the only places I’ll go to these days for a movie outside the DVD/cable TV experience.

  24. raxadian says:

    Hence why movie rental in whatever format is still a thing. Heck you can buy movie DVDs, legal ones, for as low as five to ten bunks and you wonder why people is so wary to pay 20 bucks a ticket?

    There is a reason why Disney is having it’s own video streaming service after all. People is less wary to waste money when is just a click away.

  25. Trmist says:

    I’m in agreement with most of you, today’s movies generally suck. Most are geared to children, have too much action and plot lines that are too fantastic to be remotely credible. Cut the cord 5 years ago. Now I watch 1-2 streamed movies per year. My wife uses Hoopla via the public library for free legitimate movie streaming. It is sad there are virtually no movies to help us deal with the massive economic catastrophe that is taking place. Movies as an art form passed away a long time ago, all movies of financial vehicles. Just by chance I watched The Godfather pt2. this week, that don’t make them like that anymore.

    • alex in san jose AKA digital Detroit says:

      Trmist – I think I read somewhere that the video gaming “industry” is bigger than “hollywood” these days? Movies in the 1930s were all about escapism. Well, for people raising playing video games instead of playing outside and maybe breaking a nail, video games provide far more immersive escapism than Busby Berkeley ever could.

  26. Matt P says:

    Why should I go to the theatre when my home setup is better? I sit close for a huge screen, theatre isn’t dimming the bulb to save money, the screen isn’t scratched, I can pause to go to the bathroom when I want, the seats are more comfortable and the food is better. Once you get past the initial 6 month delay for your first movie on bluray, then you have “new” stuff coming all the time.

  27. dennis ward says:

    Only one I saw was Wonder Woman, the rest seemed like trash after viewing previews.

  28. DarkMatter says:

    A relative mentioned something called MoviePass where you buy a yearly membership from Costco for about $100 and can watch one movie a day for that year. Seems like a novel idea to get crowds into theaters buying that overpriced food and drinks. It’s much easier to pony up when the movie is considered to be free. At least when I worked in theaters that stuff was actually half way decent.

    Not a bad deal if you skip the junk.

    • Wolf Richter says:

      This deal is subsidized by investors. MoviePass actually pays the theater the full retail price, and investors make up the difference.

      There are several commenters here who use it and mentioned this. Check out their comments to get a feel for it.

      • DarkMatter says:

        Thank you. I did a search prior to posting and “Moviepass” didn’t show up until I posted my comment. Not sure what happened there.

        Unless said investors are from the movie or theater industry , I can’t see how external investors could view this as a viable model. I figured theaters would utilize data on concession sales along with Moviepass tickets sold to determine if any positive change in sales occur – it’s in beta test mode for 1-2 years. I’d bet margins on the junk food are pretty darn great.

  29. Harvey says:

    I wonder if that average ticket price reflects dollar theaters. In the greater Atlanta area, it is possible to get V.I.P. IMAX seats for over $20 and see movies about to be released on DVD for $1.25.

  30. JR says:

    I worked as a director/producer in the industry until about 6 years ago. The reason I left is that the Hollywood system has some endemic flaws that have always been there, but when studios all vertically integrated the problems became exponentially worse.

    Movie budgets are now now absolutely massive and require a global release just to break even. This is even for what would be a “low budget” film. When you require that kind of release, you can’t take risks creatively – so you make sequels and adaptations.

    The corporate integration of the studios slowly has replace creative producers who understood storytelling with accountants who put movies together by looking at the market value of actors or properties. Financial models are the law of the land and there’s no wiggle room for creative chances.

    This is why the indie film movement arose – it was an opportunity to make money and compete in a niche the studios were leaving, plus new filmmakers could break through this way. But when the studios became ruled by accountants, nobody understands how to recognize a good filmmaker with someone who has a one-off success. So we see guys who made a small dramedy that had a sci-fi feeling to it get hired to make the next Jurassic Park.

    The sad truth about Hollywood now is that there are piles of great filmmakers and great new stories that could reshape the movie experience for all of us. But those people and those stories will never see the light of day because the system it now built around pushing those people away instead of including them.

    We will continue seeing increased ticket prices because they aren’t doing anything to address the reasons why fewer people are coming – and this is changing how we all get our entertainment.

    When I was a kid, going to movies during summer break was at least a weekly experience, if not more. But I took my son to one movie last summer, and my brother who has 3 kids never went at all. I asked them if they wanted to go see a movie and hey didn’t even know what out.

    This should scare the crap out of the movie industry, but instead they say “but look how much money we are making!”

    • Derek says:

      Thanks for this comment from the inside. I last worked in games/video 20 years ago, and the trajectory has been down. We have HD–beautiful pictures–but nothing to see.

      With the loss of net neutrality, it’ll be even harder for those good little independents to get any traction.

    • Petunia says:

      Too much sex, nudity, computer generated graphics, and fantasy in American movies and not enough storyline. I spent 110 hours watching a Turkish serial drama where the couple barely kissed because it was a great story, nice setting and great scenery.

  31. Rg says:

    MoviePass is a pretty sweet deal for the individual. I used to see a movie a week on the $5 Tuesday at the local theatre. Now I see one or two movies a week whenever I want to for less than a $10 monthly rate. The challenge is finding one or two good movies each week to see.

    And yes I know the investors in HMNY are subsidizing this. I hope it works out for them but I don’t own the stock myself.

  32. R. Seckler says:

    Wow. No National Anthem Take A Knee excuses to explain why attendance is falling. If it isn’t new and exciting, people have plenty of other choices to blow their entertainment dollar, if there’s anything left after increasing health care costs and inflation while wages barely keep up.

  33. doug says:

    The price of a haircut and a movie were about the same for many many years. I am out of the exhibitor business for 10 years, and cut my hair at home, so not sure if that is still true. It was for decades…

  34. PlainOutsider says:

    If you want to live cheap, Detroit has very low cost housing. Mogadishu has even cheaper. There is a reason it’s expensive to live, in the places you WANT to live in…

  35. Sutter Cane says:

    I go to the movies all the time, at least 4-5 times a month – OLD MOVIES. The local film society shows repertory screenings all the time. (They also screen the occasional new foreign or arthouse flick. )

    They sell tickets, but film society members get in free, and a membership isn’t too expensive. They also actually enforce no talking/texting policies, (although there is rarely a need since the people going are actual fans of movies, and don’t need to be told how to behave).

    It’s usually a great experience. I’ve seen everything from silent comedies to crazy eastern European sci-fi films to golden age Hollywood musicals to Hong Kong kung-fu movies. So I still count myself as an avid moviegoer and film buff, but all of my viewings are way outside of the Hollywood norm. Someone asked me if I had seen any good movies lately and I rattled off a bunch of titles, then they just looked at me weird before I realized that they meant “Have you seen any contemporary stupid blockbusters?”, which I hadn’t.

    The lessons Hollywood can learn from this, they won’t want to learn, because they are: 1.) Make the movies good, 2.) Make seeing them inexpensive, and 3.) Make the experience enjoyable (no talking/cell phones). L-O-L

  36. Robert Cook says:

    AMC has altered the movie experience by having separate concession and ticketing lines for Premium Stubs members (who pay a fee) versus all others, with the former being served first ahead of the latter, who spend extra time in line – a slick form of theft which ought to piss off their non-Premium members, and cause pangs to the cocscience of the who use the Premium lines and participate in this theft.

    • Wolf Richter says:

      We buy our AMC tickets online. We can choose our seat even. And if we go there at the spur of the moment, we buy at the ticket machine, where we also can choose our seats. No wait anywhere. But not all AMCs may be equipped that way.

  37. maria gostrey says:

    i LOVE going to the movies but, like the poster above, its because i am lucky enough to live in a city (in flyover land, no less) with both an active film society which shows literally hundreds of foreign films every yr as well as a truly eclectic independent rep theatre where in a matter of a month i saw several films noir, 4 terkovsky films & “turkish star wars”.

    havent been to a big hollywood movie in yrs.

  38. patrick k says:

    From 1980 to 2005 my wife and I averaged 50 movies a year here in SF. Basically we went to a matinee every weekend before doing something else. Some of the movie houses had cards or books that you paid for in advance. Averaged out it worked out to above $4 a ticket over all the years. It was a cheap date as they say. Generally we walked to the theatre getting a little exercise. A twofer.

    Since then things have changed dramatically. Once a month at best. The cheap date is now $40. Reserved seating helps but we now decide if a movie needs to be seen in the theatre. Most don’t and there lies the problem for the chains. Skip a few movies and you have the money for a 65″ flat screen.

    Movie making will continue but the theatres will continue to close. Virtually every neighborhood theatre has closed in SF. Robert Redford was smart in selling his Kabuki chain to AMC.

  39. Chuck Smith says:

    I don’t think this is economic.

    During the depression movie theaters flourished, as did alcohol sales, because people wanted an escape from reality.
    The movies were culturally decent, uplifting and fun, he actors were talented the scripts original and, for the most part, free of subliminal or out right social engineering messages.

    Now, all they can produce is re-makes of re-makes, crude attempts at ‘humor’, thinly veiled propaganda vilifying one class above all others (White Men), and just plain garbage.

    I MIGHT find four movies a year worth the hassle and expense of going to, but I am usually disappointed. Even Sci-Fi has become a platform for Political Correctness (the next Jedi will probably be gender confused).

    So keep pumping out trash, Hollywood. No matter how plush you make the theater, if I feel like vomiting, not only from that chemical crap you call ‘butter’ but from the content of the screen…

    And don’t get me started on “TV”!-

  40. Tom Kauser says:

    Starting to look and smell like the seventies and everyone wants to hear themselves preforming strange noises and the price of Snickers? 10 movie titles to forget!

  41. raxadian says:

    Okay, before I start a rant with everything wrong with Spiderman: Homecoming and Spiderman movies in general, what was the last time any if you went to a movie theater?

    The last time I did was two years ago. Lack of time plus being cheaper to just rent movies and that.

  42. Bill says:

    This may be sort of a tangent but we never go to movies in the theater but have recently subscribed to Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon for the TV. I can’t tell you how many, but would venture an estimate in the dozens of movies that we’ve started and maybe have gotten in as far as 30 minutes and then shut them down as either tediously boring or leaving us wondering , ” what the heck is this about anyways?” Granted, these are probably not the “first rate” fare that’s offered up in theaters but still surely cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to produce. I’m left wondering if they are using the “fling lots of it against the wall and see if any sticks” approach to producing movies. Do people actually get paid to write this tripe?

  43. Altandmain says:

    I knew someone who works at IMAX (the company).

    He says that IMAX is trying to diversify because movie studios have become high budget risk averse places and the movies have become sorely lacking as far as originality goes.

    The IMAX brand has also been cheapened (Google up Liemax), a far cry from the days when IMAX was known for its 70mm film and super large screens. They did it because the old large format was in decline in terms of interest.

    To be honest at this point, I think it is time we recognized that there is little reason to be attracted to the traditional movie experience and moved on. Let the business model decline.

    Between rising ticket prices and declining disposable income for middle class folks, there is no point in going. Not to mention, Hollywood is more into the politics and they are not capable of making a film worth watching these days.

    Maybe try supporting indie films …

  44. dereinsameschuezte says:

    the root cause? That’s easy: lack of any original content. People are tired of seeing retreads of old ‘hits’… the only alternative are CGI-inflated video game type serials of comic books…
    Daddy’s home 2???? Wtf? That means someone at the studio thought highly enough of the first one to force-feed the public another piece of dog-shit…

  45. Mike D says:

    Many great comments so far. I agree the number of good movies to watch is down, and doesn’t seem worth the increase in ticket prices. The rude/talkative/phone using people in theaters are detractors as well.

    What I have not seen anyone comment on yet is “assigned seats”. We hit this recently trying to see the Last Jedi. We got in line and at the window we had to pick seats on a tiny monitor while buying tickets. Yes, the tickets were not general admission. It seems most theaters in our area (Seattle/Bellevue Washington) are moving to this model, especially for later shows (after 2-3pm). We walked away, and went to a noon show another day that was still general admission. It seems like theaters are trying anything to get people into seats – even things that are driving customers away.

    On the plus side the newer theaters have seats that are more comfortable, with lots of leg room, and are of a stadium format where my wife doesn’t have to worry about someone tall sitting in front of her and blocking her view of the screen.

    We never buy concessions, we bring our own. Overall I think we went to the movies 2 times in 2017.

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