When I finally saw “I Love You, Man,” a good month after it came out, it was playing at my local theater only once a day.
My friend and I walked in just as the two other people in the theater (a rowdy teenaged couple) finished straddling each other. Eventually a few more trickled in, but there still weren’t enough of us to fill one row, let alone the entire theater.
And yet, we each still had to pay $10 for our tickets.
To me, this represents the most flawed aspect of movie ticket pricing: the fact that you have to pay the same blanket amount for something that’s been out for weeks as you do for an opening-night show. It’s completely nonsensical, especially considering the box office trajectory a wide-release movie goes through these days.
Generally, studios place so much emphasis on a big opening weekend for a movie that neither they nor the moviegoing public care about the following week when five new films are released. The exceptions are mega-blockbusters like “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen” and word-of-mouth surprises like “Paranormal Activity,” but most wide-release films have a big opening then fade into oblivion.
It doesn’t have to be like this, though. People are still willing to see new-ish movies in theaters, and they also love a good bargain. And studios love it when a film has staying power. So here’s a movie ticket stimulus plan that’ll make everybody happy: Theater chains should start a new pricing option and sell cheaper tickets for wide-release moves that have already been out for a set number of weeks, during that awkward middle stage of their run before they hit the dollar theater.
Say you’re paying $10 a pop this weekend at the Showcase for “Saw VI” tickets because it doesn’t offer student discounts; maybe you should also have the option to see “Zombieland” for $6 or $7 instead. If you go for “Zombieland,” you get the satisfaction of both saving money and catching up with something the rest of the world has seen; the movie theater still gets the satisfaction of ripping you off; and Columbia gets to post fairly sizable ticket sales for a month-old film once budget-minded consumers everywhere flock to see the splattered brains of the undead.
Now, I’ve been emphasizing “wide-release” movies for a reason. This pricing plan simply wouldn’t make sense for independent films. Even successful ones like “The Hurt Locker” and “(500) Days of Summer” start out their theatrical runs on only a few screens in New York and L.A. They open in more theaters every week as good reviews trickle in, so by the time these movies reach you, odds are they’re already a month old. And the limited-engagement nature of most art theaters ensures they won’t be sticking around for long, not to mention that, coming from an independent distributor, these movies are generally more in need of the funds a fully-priced ticket provides. And between you and me, they’re usually worth the extra money. Overall, I don’t mind dropping a Hamilton for Werner Herzog and a Lincoln for Michael Bay.
This plan isn’t as simple as what I’m making it out to be, though. Movie ticket prices are completely in the hands of the theater chains, which have to keep raising them as the studios raise the cost of distribution if they want to make a profit. But if the Quality 16 can give out student and senior discounts, I see no reason why a “new-ish movie” discount can’t exist in the future. If video stores can do the same thing with “nearly new” DVDs, why the hell not? And yes, I’m aware of the existence of matinee prices. But not everyone has the time to go to the movies at 11 a.m. between Monday and Thursday.
Disclaimer: I’m not an economist. I’m just a guy who loves going to the movies. And, as a reviewer for the Daily, someone who occasionally sees them for free. But that doesn’t mean I can’t feel for the moviegoers across the country whose wallets are screaming in agony. Hollywood needs us to go to the movies, and we need them to go easy on our paychecks. So start writing letters to Showcase, Goodrich Theaters, AMC and all the other theater chains, and tell them to start charging less for older films. And do it quick: I still need to see “The Invention of Lying.”