Paranormal Pop Column: I'm mad as hell about movie tickets


I love movies, and I also see movies as part of my job. But I’m mad as hell and I won’t take it anymore.

Let me explain: Each week I’ll attend a few press screenings of big studio movies. I get into these screenings for free because it’s part of the symbiotic relationship between filmmakers and film writers; they want us to talk about the movies so people will see them, and we need to see the movies to have something to talk about.

And yet, because I love movies, I still attend regular showings of other films throughout the week that I haven’t screened in advance. Or I will go back and watch movies I’d already seen with friends excited about the new blockbuster or Oscar bait.

That means paying for a ticket.

That, in turn, means taking out a mortgage on my house, accepting bids on a kidney or selling my firstborn child. If I want a soda and snack, it may be necessary to auction off my mortal soul. And now that we’re knee deep in the summer movie season - a time when the public takes to the theaters the most for a couple hours of air conditioning and escapism into massively marketed 3D super hero/sequel vehicles – it means I may have to pull off a massive art gallery or casino heist just to afford the trips to the multiplex.

According to National Association of Theatre Owners, the average U.S. ticket price in 2010 was $7.89, up 5% from $7.50 in 2009. The Los Angeles Times reported in January 2011 that the fourth quarter ticket costs in 2010 were around $8.01, a 5% increase from the same quarter in the previous year. Meanwhile, the cost of tickets where I live in New York City: $13 for an evening ticket or about $18 for 3D movie, but you’ll need to tack on another $1.50 for a “convenience fee” if you want to buy online through Fandango.

And this is during a time of serious economic hardship. So, can we call it? Can we now pronounce “dinner and movie” as a cheap date idea officially dead? A family trip with the kids to the cinema is DOA, right?

This is madness.

I understand how ticket prices work. A majority of the astronomical ticket cost goes, not to the theater, but the studio. Aside from expensive talent, to create a movie means enlisting a crew of hundreds from high profile gigs on down to the gaffers, caterers and animal wranglers. But when the budgets for the latest adventure of a hero with a power ring ($200-plus million for Warner Bros.’ Green Lantern) or robots in disguise ($400-plus million for Paramount PicturesTransformers: Dark of the Moon”) keep rising, ticket costs will also continue to increase so studios can turn a profit – or at least break even – from their bigger productions.
Yet what can a family of three hope to expect for nearly $100 and a night at the theater? Mediocrity, more often than not. Is it acceptable when the best that can be said for big budget flicks like Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides is “It wasn’t bad” or “it didn’t suck,” especially considering what we’re paying to see them?

Something is innately wrong when the current movie system (with a few great exceptions like Super 8 and X-Men First Class) is based on a high charge for a “meh” experience – or in the case of 2009’s Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen – a overwhelmingly bad one.

The studios take you, the audience member, for granted. They have just assumed you’ll show up if they throw enough CGI, explosions and 3D at you. The marketing dollars and the billboards and flashy trailers are still working much of the time to lure the people in. And if they keep working well enough, then the studios will happily keep churning out the same “meh” entertainment, and may seek to cut out the press entirely – thus preventing advance word or opinions from getting out.

But there is something you can do.

Returning to my original statement, it’s time for movie audiences to have a Howard Beale moment. Like the character played by Peter Finch in the 1976 Sidney Lumet-directed film Network, I want to encourage audiences to fight back a little.

I don’t have to tell you that a lot of the big movies coming out are bad. Everybody knows they are bad. A dollar buys a nickel’s worth at the movie theaters. I don’t want anyone to protest or riot or write to a theater chain owner. But maybe it is time for movie lovers to declare they are mad as hell and not going to take it anymore.

Don’t just automatically turn up to see the new Transformers or Captain America on opening weekend simply because that’s what you’re “supposed” to see. Take a break from the movie theater until either the ticket prices drop or the quality of the film warrants the expense. Stay at home, read a book, catch up on movie over Netflix, go to an actual theatre and see a show.

Make the studios hurt a little. Love the movies but not what the movie-going experience has become.

Get mad as hell and not take it anymore.