(tldr; going to the movies is expensive, UA galaxy needs updated, Watchmen was good)
I went to the theater tonight to see Watchmen. I really enjoyed it, but that's not what this post is about. I went to the UA Galaxy Stadium 14 here in Indy. Normally I prefer to go to the Goodrich theater at Hamilton Town Center, as it is a newer theater and they have digital projection and IMAX screens available. I should also mention that the AMC theater at the Castleton mall is very nice after they renovated it, but it's the least convenient of the three for me to get to.
I chose the UA theater because I had a coupon for a free movie at a Regal cinema, and the UA theater is part of the Regal Entertainment Group. I also had a coupon for a free drink (with minimum $3.50 concession purchase) as well as a $1 off concession at the Goodrich theater, but I figured the free movie ticket was the better value. After all, a ticket at our local theaters runs $9.50 ($12.50 for IMAX). I had my mind set on indulging in the decadence of buttered movie popcorn with lots of salt and a fully leaded Cherry Coke. The theater got all of that free ticket back with that purchase: Medium drink + Medium popcorn (combo #3) was $11.50. I always thought combos were supposed to be some sort of deal, but this was just 25¢ off of the normal price for the medium drink ($5.50) and medium popcorn ($6.50). You can save a buck on each item by getting a size smaller, or spend a buck more on each to go to the large. I'm not calling out UA on this pricing either, as it is the same pricing you'll find at the AMC and Goodrich. However, there is one difference between the theaters: bag vs. tub. I prefer my popcorn in a tub, not in a bag. At the Goodrich theater you can buy any size and ask for it in a tub, and they will happily oblige you. I asked for the same at the UA theater and was told that the only way to get a tub is to buy the large popcorn. I asked the clerk if she could just measure out my medium bag and then pour it into a tub, and she said she couldn't because they keep an inventory count of the tubs, and she's responsible for reconciling it with receipts!!! I haven't been to the AMC theater in a while, so I can't say where they stand on the bag vs. tub issue.
I was going to the 9pm showing, and it being a Tuesday I figured I might just have the theater to myself. Almost, but not quite: there were two couples in there and one other fellow going stag like myself. That got me to thinking, "What is the break-even cost for showing a film?" Assuming that everyone else at my screen paid full price for their ticket, that's $9.50 x 5 = $47.50. The two couples were younger, so let's assume it was a date and the gentlemen sprung for the individual small cokes and shared a medium popcorn. That's ($4.50 x 4) + ($6.50 x 2) = $31.00. The other gentleman and I each had the same snacks, so that's another $11.50 x 2 = $23, bringing our grand total to $101.50 taken in by the theater for the 9pm showing of watchmen (I knew studying those story problems in math would pay off one day). I have no idea what the licensing terms are for a theater when they show a film, but I have to imagine that they pay some sort of fee for each showing. Add to that the cost of the staff, electricity, maintenance, and who knows what other costs to running the theater, and I'm thinking that UA didn't make much profit on the six of us who wanted to watch the Watchmen.
This line of thinking got me to further pondering how theaters can survive. The UA theater has the oldest equipment of the three I've mentioned here. The Goodrich theater is newly built, and the AMC theater recently underwent a major renovation. While the picture and sound at both the AMC theater and Goodrich theater is crisp and bright, the picture at UA was smeary, as if there was a bit of vaseline on the projector lens. Making upgrades to a theater isn't cheap, and where I'm going with this is that I don't mind paying a proper amount to see a movie on a large screen with fantastic sound. Nor do I have a problem with the theater making a profit on this venture. What I do take issue with is the disingenuous pricing. If the theater needs to take in $25 per patron for a film, charge $25 for the ticket. Don't charge me $9.50 for the ticket, and then expect me to think $5.50 for a drink or $6.50 for popcorn is reasonable. In addition, sweeten the deal. What if when you went to the theater to watch a movie, you also brought home a copy of the DVD, or maybe your ticket included a code to download the soundtrack. That would certainly make it easier to justify the astronomical cost of a trip to the movies.
To put it in perspective, let's say that in a few years I want to take my family of five to an evening at the theater. Two adult tickets and three kid tickets are going to run me $38.50. Assuming everyone wants their own small drink and popcorn, that's another $50. So $98.50 to provide two hours of entertainment to my family. For that same money, I could buy a DVD player (under $30), a copy of the DVD (typically $15), and a decent take-out meal, and probably still have money left over. Or, for that same C-note, I could have my cable company turn on every cable channel available, including on-demand subscriptions and premium movie channels, for a month.
I enjoy going to the theater to watch a movie from time to time, but I'm ready for a shakeup that will make the value proposition more interesting.