Dear Hollywood: About those high movie prices...

Hollywood movie pricesDear Hollywood,

I'm a big fan and happy to be writing you, but I wish I was for a happier reason. You see, I was thinking of taking my family to the movies this weekend, and then I remembered that box office prices have gone up.

Way up.

Numerous media outlets reported that last Friday, according to the investment firm BTIG, prices for adult admission to 3-D movies increased by 8.3% at box offices nationwide. Regular two-dimensional movie prices rose 4%, on average, and ticket prices for IMAX jumped 10%.
And then what do you know, at the end of last weekend, The New York Times ran a story about the disappointing haul of cash that How to Train Your Dragonhad brought in. It was "only" $43.3 million. That sounds like a lot, and it is, but the studio had been expecting northward of $60 mil.

Why didn't more money come in? "A variety of factors may have dented How to Train Your Dragon," speculated the Times'writer Brooks Barnes, "from a sudden glut of 3-D pictures to the decision last week by many theater chains to raise ticket prices."

I'm with Barnes. I think the movie industry is making a big mistake.

Nobody asked me for my opinion, Hollywood, but I can't help but notice the comparisons here between movie prices and banks and credit cards. For years, banks kept lifting their overdraft and non-sufficient fund fees and credit cards kept adding fees and upping their interest, until finally the economy cracked, and the government stepped in and began enforcing new rules. Now, I realize film prices could be $76,000 a ticket, and the government presumably won't step in. Capitalism and all, and as wonderful as the movies are, I don't think our economic security is at stake if your prices are high.

Still, I think you're shooting yourselves in the foot. Granted, I'm just one guy, but I know that I'm going to fewer and fewer movies every year. I used to be a great customer, too. In my teens and 20, when I had much more disposable income, I was probably at the movies once or twice a month. In my 30s, I became a husband and father and didn't have as much time and extra money, but my wife and I would still leave the kids with the grandparents and go see a movie every couple months, and the minute I felt my children were old enough to sit through an entire movie, I dragged them to the theater. I had many fond memories of my own parents taking me to see films like The Rescuers and The Cat From Outer Space(don't laugh; when it came out in 1978, I was 8 and from my perspective, it was as good as Lawrence of Arabia), and you know, I wanted my own kids to feel the same way about the movies.

Maybe it's inevitable, now that I'm 40, that I'm cranky and not feeling the love from the movie theaters. Maybe my father, when he took my younger brother and I to see that 1978 Don Knotts' caper Hot Lead and Cold Feet, grumbled about the $2 movie tickets and reminisced about how movies were so much cheaper in the 1950s when his parents were shelling out 50 cents. And maybe my grandfather was grumbling that prices were so much cheaper during the Depression when movie tickets were about a quarter.

Still, this is what I know. To take my family (me, the wife and two kids) to see the 3-D movie Alice in Wonderland this weekend, which is what I've been contemplating doing, will probably cost around $35, maybe slightly less if we see it in the afternoon, and I'm not including whatever we outlay at the concession stand.

We're in the Midwest. It's even worse, I understand, if you're living on the coast, especially in a big city. And, sure, if you're a big movie executive reading this, you're probably thinking, "Heh, heh, well, griping aside, he's still planning on taking his family to see Alice in Wonderland."

True enough, but I know that I'm seeing a lot fewer movies than I might have in the past. I didn't go see The Bounty Hunter (probably just as well, given the reviews) nor The Ghost Writer (which has been wonderfully reviewed, but you know, that's why we have Netflix; we can catch it later). I missed Shutter Island and doubt I'll be heading to the theater to see Hot Tub Time Machine, which seems to be aimed at my age (all about the good ol' 1980s) and looks like a fun film.

Meanwhile, my kids haven't been clamoring to see How to Train Your Dragon, so you can bet I won't be pushing that movie on them. We'll go to a playground instead, which, of course, is probably a better decision for all of us, anyway. Fresh air and exercise, you know.

So you do your thing, Hollywood, if you want, and I'll do mine. But just as the banks and credit cards used to think they could wring every little cent out of their customers, only to have their tactics eventually boomerang back on them, I don't think your latest price hike is a good, sustainable business practice.

Your friend,

Geoff Williams

Geoff Williams is a frequent contributor to WalletPop, a devoted fan of the movies (but not its current prices), and the co-author of the new book Living Well with Bad Credit.
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