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Is going to a movie worth the price?

October 01, 2014

By Paul Brucker

Last year, 70% of Americans went out to the movies at least one time and paid, on average, $8.00 a ticket. The tab got considerably higher if they also treated themselves to popcorn, soda or candy at the movie theater’s marked-up prices. Today, there are cheaper or more convenient ways to watch movies: Video On-Demand through cable TV, online video streaming services like Netflix or Amazon Instant Video and DVDs. But people still throng to the movie theater enough to support America’s 39,056 indoor screens in 5,317 sites (plus 606 drive-in theaters).

Here are a few facts from the National Association of Theater Owners:

  • More people go to the movies than attend theme parks or sporting events. In fact, to equal the number of movie admissions, it would take about 9,500 filled-to-capacity Yankee Stadiums
  • Adults aged 21 or older are two times more likely to go to movies each month than go to a bar or night club
  • Last year, movie studios earned $10.92 billion from movie theater showings

So, do we pay too much for those days or nights at the movies? Not compared to Australians. Over there, a normal seat costs $20 and “gold class” recliners go for $40. Then again, if we compare today’s prices to historical prices, in 1910 the average price of a movie ticket was 7 cents (or $1.71 in today’s dollars).

Ticket prices are high because movies cost a fortune to make. Hollywood is rather secretive about the total production costs of its films. But movie industry reporters estimate that the 2007 Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End is the costliest film ever made at $300 million, followed by 2009’s Avatar at $280 million.

It also costs a fortune to cast big-time actors. For two years running, Robert Downey Jr. has topped the list of Hollywood’s highest paid actors, earning $75 million in 2013. He’s followed by Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson at $53 million, Bradley Cooper at $46 million and Leonardo DiCaprio at $39 million, according to Forbes magazine. Often, the studio’s investment in star power pays off and a film earns big bucks. On the other hand, sometimes expensive actors are involved in financial flops. For instance, Adam Sandler, who earns $15 million or more a film, also earned the dubious distinction by Forbes of being the most overpaid actor in Hollywood.

Movie reviewers and psychologists have written volumes about America’s love affair with the big screen. Perhaps it’s because film, with its audio and visual magic, is the most accessible and emotionally engaging of all mass art forms. Plus, if a movie has a compelling story, it presents us with what mythologist Joseph Campbell calls “the experience of being alive… so that we can actually feel the rapture of being alive.” Depending on the particular movie, you may be moved to laugh, cry or jump out of your seat with fright (sometimes to do all three during the same film). And there’s something special about sharing the experience of a movie with a community of other watchers (as long as you’re spared the indignity of pesky people who talk loudly through the show).