Planet Geek’s Guide to Modern Movie Attendance.

I’ve been avoiding going to the movies lately. What used to be an enjoyable experience has continued its slide into blatant commercialism and customer gouging. Skyrocketing ticket prices, indifferent service, and obscene concession prices make consumer action a necessity.
In defense of that age-old institution of the American movie experience, I bring you Planet Geek’s Guide to Modern Movie Attendance.

In the face of such outrageous gouging by entities such as Hoyts and AMC Theatres, there’s a few things a movie goer can do to offset the costs associated with an evening at the movies.
To give this some perspective, lets look at the current costs with attending, as was in my recent case, a viewing of The Incredibles. As I live in the sticks, transportation and parking were relatively free, which was good because an adult ticket ran me $9.50. After getting inside, I usually like getting a snack. One medium bucket of popcorn and a medium coke set me back $8.50. Showtime is scheduled for 7:15, so I sit down at 7:10 or so and wait. The screen is showing a powerpoint slideshow of movie trivia, used car ads, and the like – that’s fine and dandy, this is a nice time to socialize and settle in. At 7:15, the lights change and… 10 minutes of commercials start. This includes a Pepsi commercial, an ad for Hoyts (wrapped in the ‘please throw your away your garbage’ PSA), and other dreck better forgotten.
Then of course, it was time for previews. To be honest, I rather like previews – they do let me know what the latest coming out of Hollywood is like, and they do tendto tailor the previews to the audience, so I really don’t begrudge this bit of commercialism.
After that, the movie does indeed start, and was much enjoyed. No complaints here. But I come out of the experience feeling somehow taken advantage of.
To combat this, I have a few simple tips that I offer up to make the movie experience slightly more enjoyable, and bring with it the glee of even mildly sticking it to The Man.
Tip #1 – Bring your own food
Can’t really emphasize this one enough, but it also has it’s own challenges. In my case, I simply walk into the local mall and down to CVS, pick up a bag of gummybears ($1.35), and a 20oz Coke ($1.25), and stick them inside my sweatshirt pocket. Some theaters have implemented a “No bags” policy, where any carry-in bags have to be checked. This is a thinly veiled attempt to extract more money from concessions under the veil of ‘security’. It is simple to get around (ala via the aformentioned sweatshirt pocket), but it still rankles. I dislike having to feel like a thief smuggling in food simply because the on-site available food is priced beyond all realms of sanity.
Tip #2 – Go to matinees
Matinee tickets are generally $2.00 or so cheaper than ‘evening tickets’. This merely makes the ticket price ‘uncomfortable’ rather than ‘obscene’. The drawback of course is that the times are ones that most folks usually attend movies (duh). The latest matinee I found was 5:15 on a Sunday evening, which was quite workable. Another drawback of matinees is that they tend to be used as child day-care centers, where parents will drop off the kids for 2 hours. The last 2 movies I saw in this fashion were thankfully annoyance-free (maybe because they were very good movies, I dunno), but be aware that this can happen (particularly with mid-day matinees during the summertime, when kids are out of school).
Up til now we’ve focused on the “Mostly legal” aspects of making the movie attendance experience better. From here on we go into things that probably won’t get you arrested, but may get you escorted out of the theatre.
Multiple Movies
In the large multiplexes that are common now, there are always many films running at once. Unless the theatre is handling huge crowds at special events where there’ll be lines of people waiting to get in, once a movie lets out, there’s nothing preventing you from going into another theatre. A few tips when doing this, though:

  • Make a stopover – Don’t go straight from one theatre to another. If anyone is watching, they’ll notice this in a heartbeat. Take your time. Scope out which theatre you’d like to go into, then go into the bathroom for a few minutes. Play a game on your phone, whatever. Once the initial crowds from the first flick have dispersed, casually wander out of the bathroom and into the second theatre.
  • DONT stand in the hallway scanning the crowd or watching the screen. Go find a seat, preferably buried in the middle of a row somewhere. Be casual, but direct, don’t wander around, look like you’ve been there the whole evening.
  • Do this when the theatres are not very crowded. Sometimes they will have attendants watching doors and seating, checking tickets. I’ve only been checked once (fortunately it was for the movie I had paid for, so no problems), but watch around. 🙂
  • Take a phone call! – this is a good one. Spend a few minutes out in the hallway out in the theatre talking on your cellphone, walking up and down the hall. It’ll look like you just came out of the theatre for the call. When done, just pop back into whichever movie you want. Bingo!
  • DONT do this a lot. Despite appearances, movie theatre workers do have brains. They will notice if you’re there 4 nights in a row for 6 hours each night. Change theatres, skip a few weeks, don’t wear the same bright orange jacket every time. Be inconspicuous, casual, comfortable.

My best doing this technique has been 4 movies, on a Sunday afternoon from about 2pm til 10pm that night. Paying $7 for admission and seeing 4 movies is a screaming bonus, I certainly got my moneys worth. For me, seeing 2 movies for $7 works out to be a fair balance for me and the theatre.
** Disclaimer – the author does not assume any responsibility for embarrassment, depression, and lost face when you’re kicked out on your ass from the movie in front of all your friends for shouting “DAMN, I’M GLAD I DIDNT PAY TO WATCH THIS CRAP.”


A wandering geek. Toys, shiny things, pursuits and distractions.

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6 thoughts on “Planet Geek’s Guide to Modern Movie Attendance.

  1. It may also be useful to shop around and see if other theaters have a better regular price, even for prime time admissions. e.g. The Capitol Theater in Arlington charges $6 a ticket, and it’s a pretty nice little place. A lot of what they do offer is second-run, but some of it is arthouse fare and the like. I think the Somerville Theater in Davis Square has similarly low prices.

  2. True there are better prices around. I should note that this particular theater has the wonders of stadium seating, so I don’t mind paying a little more for a top quality theater, but there’s absolutely no excuse for the obscene concession prices.
    The flipside of Somerville and Arlington is parking and travel hassles. Alas.

  3. Well, if you would live somewhere reasonable, you could go to the theaters that don’t charge an arm and a leg.
    The concessions, though, are hopeless, because that’s where they make a lot of their money. Keep up the smuggling!

  4. Not to be a prig or anything, but do you walk out on a restaurant bill if you think it wasn’t worth the price?
    There’s a continuum here, of course, probably starting at downloading illicit MP3s and ending at armed robbery. 🙂
    Incidentally, the concession prices are that way because, particularly on opening weekends of big movies, that’s the only place the theater makes money (the studio cut is something like 80% opening weekend and goes down over time).

  5. I agree that concessions are out of control, but ticket prices are pretty much set by the distributor. Most movie theaters make almost nothing on the price of the ticket. Of course, that doesn’t mean that it’s right to charge $9 for popcorn and a coke. That’s just nuts.
    Given the price of the DVD is usually the same as the price of one person’s attendance + snacks, it just makes a lot more sense to wait and buy the DVD instead (or, better yet, rent it). I very rarely go to the movies anymore… in most cases, I can wait for the DVD.

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