Film News

Are High Ticket Prices Really to Blame For 2014’s Historic Decline in Movie Attendance?

According to BoxOfficeMojo, North American movie theaters sold 1.27 billion tickets last year, the lowest total for any year since 1995 when the biggest hits were Toy Story, Batman Forever, and Apollo 13 and theaters only sold 1.26 billion tickets. When outlets like Deadline and The Hollywood Reporter pointed this out earlier this month everyone in Hollywood seemed to collectively crap their pants before pointing a finger at the theaters, arguing that exorbitant ticket prices are clearly to blame for this downturn in attendance. The theaters fired back, rather accurately pointing out that they can only sell tickets for movies people actually want to see. So, start making better movies, and attendance will go back up, regardless of ticket prices.

It turns out that the Hollywood studios are the ones who get to shout, “I told you so!” Research and consulting firm PwC polled 1,044 movie consumers in October and November, and their big headline-grabbing statistic is that 53% of the respondents cited the rising admission costs over the last five years as a primary contributing factor to the reason they are seeing fewer movies in theaters than they used to. Not surprisingly, over half of the respondents indicated that lower ticket prices would spur increased attendance from them. Just to be clear, though, this survey was specific to summer movie attendance since 2014’s summer posted a 16% year-over-year decline in domestic box office revenue, the biggest year-to-year drop in summer revenue since, well, before BoxOfficeMojo kept track of those things.

Yeah, um, but it’s really just that the movies weren’t as good this year, right? That has to be a big reason why fewer people went to the theaters. Maybe so, but not so much among the people PwC surveyed. Only 23% of them said they’d go to see more movies if there were better movies worth seeing, and less than 10% indicated cheaper concession prices would draw them back to theaters.  Moreover, they mostly rejected any additional perks theaters or studios might offer, such as live entertainment at theaters or offering a digital copy of the movie to go along with a ticket purchase. The majority of them simply wanted cheaper tickets, or at least discounted prices for what they called “last-minute seats.”  The respondents indicated a willingness to pay more for the convenience of watching new movies at home, with 82% indicating they’d pay between $10 and $20 to watch the latest big, new movie on their own TV.

PwC ultimately concluded, “Despite advanced technology, better seating, improved concessions and the return of 3D movies, the negative of higher ticket prices is difficult to counter-act […] 3D ranks last among drivers of movie attendance.” They recommend that theaters and studios partner to explore incentives like monthly movie subscriptions, last minute discounts, and offering opportunities to watch new movies at home. Oddly, PwC also concluded that Summer 2014 “was an anomaly, given less interesting film options. Focusing on interesting content in relevant genres is key. And don’t underestimate the value of recommendations from family and friends.”

amc-theaters-movie-pass-slice
AMC is currently beta-testing its own monthly movie subscription package

So, basically, PwC surveyed people who said ticket prices are getting out of control, but then they brushed that aside by acknowledging that Summer 2014 would have probably been just fine if studios have given audiences more movies they wanted to see. So, I guess both the Hollywood studios AND movie theaters get to shout, “I told you so!”

Hmm. They do both make a compelling argument. North American ticket prices have jumped 18% since 2007, the last year that the average ticket price was below $7. Over the past two years, the average ticket price has hovered over the $8 mark, $8.13 in 2013 and a current estimate of $8.12 in 2014. Worse yet, as the Wall Street Journal pointed out “in many big cities a movie ticket is well over $10, with 3-D and IMAX movies surcharges bringing them closer to $20 a pop.” The result is that while box office revenue has increased 7% since 2007 the overall number of tickets sold has fallen by over 9%. So, whatever gain they’re making in revenue is purely the result of higher ticket prices. Hollywood’s actual audience of ticket-buying moviegoers is gradually shrinking.

The avengers
The cure for what ails the box office

Yet it’s not like this has been a straight decline. Instead, attendance fluctuated year-to-year, going down more often than it’s gone up, e.g., down in 2008, up in 2009, down in 2010 and 2011, right back up in 2012, and down again in 2013 and 2014. It’s no coincidence the years when attendance went up were the years of Avatar (2009) and The Avengers (2012), two of the highest-grossing films of all time. Movie theaters look at that, and argue that everything should be just fine in 2015 because Avengers 2 and Star Wars: Episode VII seem likely to be Avatar/Avengers-sized hits. Of course 2014 was going to be a down year. Audiences simply weren’t as excited about films like Amazing Spider-Man 2, Godzilla, X-Men: Days of Future Past, How to Train Your Dragon 2, and Transformers: Age of Extinction as they had been in years past. Plus, truly unexpected delays robbed the summer of two of its surefire hits, Universal’s Furious 7 (delayed to April 2015) and Pixar’s The Good Dinosaur (delayed to November 2015). Considering the box office track records for the Fast & Furious franchise and Pixar brand, those two films would have likely combined to contribute over $400 million to the domestic box office, roughly equating to over 50 million more tickets sold on the year, thus largely erasing any decline in attendance from 2013 to 2014.

disney-pixar-the-good-dinosaur-2015-finding-dory-20162014 was a year in which Hollywood actually offered us a surprisingly diversified batch of movies over the summer, with multiple original R-rated comedies (Neighbors, Million Ways to Die in the West, Tammy, Let’s Be Cops, Sex Tape), teen romances (Fault in Our Stars, If I Stay), family friendly fantasy (Earth to Echo, Maleficent) and drama (Million Dollar Arm, Hundred-Foot Journey), and even flat out original action films (Lucy) or ones adapted from an obscure source (Edge of Tomorrow) to go along with the more typical big budget sequels and comic book movies. Moreover, they offered us multiple films outside of traditional release cycles (Captain America in April, Guardians of the Galaxy in August, Maze Runner in September). Some of those movies worked, and some didn’t, but it would be a shame if their main takeaway, particularly from the downturn over the summer, is that they simply need more sequels and comic book movies. The main takeaway, to me, is really that if Furious 7 and Good Dinosaur had arrived when they were originally supposed to the summer of 2014 would have been just fine, and Hollywood is ultimately better off giving us a more diversified slate of movies.

Then again, I don’t live somewhere where the average ticket price is well over $10. If I did, I’d probably be here telling you that, damn, those ticket prices are out of control!

What about you? Are ticket prices insane where you live? Not cheap, but fair? Or surprisingly affordable? Let me know in the comments.

BTW, I previously covered similar territory with my article exploring the various ways North American theaters are trying to spur movie attendance. You can read it here.

Source: Deadline

24 comments

  1. In New Orleans (actually the suburbs), the prices are fair. Yet, my wife and I are not weekend goers any more. We both teach high school and go in the late afternoon during the week to take advantage of matinee prices. We can afford to go on weekends we just don’t choose to. However, we are considering the AMC subscription especially since we can go in the late afternoons.

    1. I am a matinee guy as well, usually late afternoon. I do not actually have any AMC theaters near me, but if I did I would be looking at the AMC Movie Pass program as well. it would be worth it for me during the busy summer and winter movie months.

  2. I find ticket prices fair at AMC and Alamo locations in Kansas City. (Caught a 35mm screening of Blade Runner for $9 on a Saturday night.) Concessions, however, seem a ripoff everywhere.

    1. I actually live like 3 hours away from Kansas City, and the prices here are pretty reasonable. However, I agree that concession prices kind of stink wherever you go. I was surprised that so few of the survey respondents cited that as a main concern, but then again I have personally adapted by not buying popcorn or anything else at the movies anymore. You can adapt to that more easily than you can to a high cost of admission.

    1. Wow-zuh! That’s terrible. That’s almost the price of simply buying a bluray/dvd/digital combo pack when a movie first comes out and is on sale, or at least it would be in my neck of the woods.

  3. I am just so tired of sequels! Lucy was an original action flick, but maybe the director overestimated the IQ of the average movie goer. Titanic was really simplistic, with oversimplified characters and terrible dialogue, but it was popular in the theater for over a year, because James Cameron knows the average movie goer.

    1. A valid criticism of Hollywood is the over reliance on sequels and those awful reboots (especially of classic TV shows).

  4. “Moreover, they mostly rejected any additional perks theaters or studios might offer, such as live entertainment at theaters or offering a digital copy of the movie to go along with a ticket purchase.”

    What?! You get live entertainment in the USA? (Side question: Is it normally cosplayers or something substantial? Is that why when the Batman opening night screening turned into a mentally unstable man murdering people, that people thought it was just a cosplayer?) I have never been offered a digital copy!

    Part of me feels like actually going to the cinema is a waste of money – that sounds really harsh but let me clarify:
    So, in Australia, a ticket costs around $17 usually.
    It’s been 8 months since I saw Godzilla. The chain store that I normally buy DVDs and Blu-Rays is now selling it for $24.98/$20 (3D Blu-Ray with Ultraviolet etc/ Blu Ray with Ultraviolet). This chain store regularly has 20% off sales. So if I plan properly, I could pay $20 or $18. If I wait another few months, it will drop further in price. I can buy it for less than a ticket AND watch it as many times as I want at home with surround sound, affordable junk food, as much alcohol as I can drink, unlimited toilet breaks etc
    So if I am patient and decided to wait, I could save money and actually have physical and virtual objects that are mine for me to enjoy for years to come. If I hate the movie, I can resell it or give it away.

    A random thought is: is the cinema experience worth it? I own a lot of DVDs and Blu-Rays that I never saw in the cinema or has been decades since they were released (eg Ghostbusters I). I love them and don’t ever think “Damn, I wish I saw that at the cinema.” I’m content with the state of what’s available.

    I think I only bothered to see two movies last year in the cinema. I didn’t even go to the Dendy Cinema, which used to be Australia’s chain that showed the independent/alternative films (they now also show mainstream movies – probably to helps stay afloat). I really don’t know why I didn’t see many films last year especially since I had quit going to roller derby and lost a lot of friends.

    1. “What?! You get live entertainment in the USA?”

      I actually have no idea what the survey was referring to with that bit. I assumed they were being hypothetical because other than impromptu sing-a-longs at a midnight screening of Harry Potter & The Deathly Hallows I’ve never really encountered live entertainment at a movie theater. To be fair, the premiere theater in my town does actually have a bar upstairs with local jazz and acoustic guitar musicians on the weekends, but I’ve never been up there. As for the cosplayers question, I don’t think that’s what they meant. People have been dressing up for midnight screenings for years. I remember seeing someone dressed up as Nightcrawler at the midnight screening of X-Men: The Last Stand in 2006, and I wanted to ask them if they knew that Nightcrawler wasn’t actually going to be in the movie despite being such a big part of X2.

      “I have never been offered a digital copy!”

      Neither have I. I think they are looking at the music concert model where artists are starting to include copies of their CDs with ticket purchases, whether you want them or not. For example, I’ve looking at tickets for the last two Tom Petty tours, and both times all of the tickets came with a copy of his recent album. So, hypothetically speaking, if studios started incentivizing the purchase of a movie theater ticket by including a digital copy of the film to be delivered to you upon its VOD release would that sway you? Hell yeah it would! I’d love that!

      “So, in Australia, a ticket costs around $17 usually.”

      If I was in your situation, I’d probably be holding off too because, as you laid off, if you simply wait long enough you can get a Blu-Ray/DVD/Digital bundle pack of the film for around that same price.

      “A random thought is: is the cinema experience worth it? I own a lot of DVDs and Blu-Rays that I never saw in the cinema or has been decades since they were released (eg Ghostbusters I). I love them and don’t ever think “Damn, I wish I saw that at the cinema.” I’m content with the state of what’s available.”

      I think that is a personal preference thing. Some people prefer to have seen movies with big crowds in a more communal experience, and there are certain movies that are arguably better in that environment. For example, when I watch Freddy Vs. Jason now I wonder why the heck I ever bought it in DVD in the first place, but then I remember how much fun it was seeing it opening night in a sold-out theater with people talking back to the screen (the way you do with horror movies) the whole time. The experience of being there was more enjoyable than the actual film, which is something I didn’t realize until I saw Freddy Vs. Jason by myself at home.

      1. “I actually have no idea what the survey was referring to with that bit. I assumed they were being hypothetical because other than impromptu sing-a-longs at a midnight screening of Harry Potter & The Deathly Hallows I’ve never really encountered live entertainment at a movie theater. To be fair, the premiere theater in my town does actually have a bar upstairs with local jazz and acoustic guitar musicians on the weekends,”

        When I think about it more, there is live entertainment of sorts in Australia but only special cases such as officially advertised sing-a-long sessions of “The Sound of Music” that gets advertised alongside music events in weekly emails.
        Also, I went to a screening of the cult classic of “The Room” where audience participation is encouraged by handing out plastic spoons to throw at the screen.

        “I think they are looking at the music concert model where artists are starting to include copies of their CDs with ticket purchases, whether you want them or not. For example, I’ve looking at tickets for the last two Tom Petty tours, and both times all of the tickets came with a copy of his recent album. So, hypothetically speaking, if studios started incentivizing the purchase of a movie theater ticket by including a digital copy of the film to be delivered to you upon its VOD release would that sway you? Hell yeah it would! I’d love that!”

        That’s a brilliant good idea. The record labels produce a huge number of CDs for each major artist and many end up in discount bins. Did you already own the CD when you went? A fraction of an audience probably don’t and probably just go for those essential classic hits (then talk through the new songs)- I still haven’t bought the latest albums from some of my favourite bands such Neil Young, U2 and Foo Fighters.

        I do really like the idea of being offered a digital copy of the film. I suppose they would hand out a voucher that has a start date after the screenings end. If they wanted to make an even better deal, they could offer a $10 discount on a physical copy at a participating chain store.

        I still haven’t bought that copy of Godzilla. Ha ha ha! I’ve been too busy rewatching Breaking Bad but in Blu Ray.

        “I think that is a personal preference thing. Some people prefer to have seen movies with big crowds in a more communal experience, and there are certain movies that are arguably better in that environment. For example, when I watch Freddy Vs. Jason now I wonder why the heck I ever bought it in DVD in the first place, but then I remember how much fun it was seeing it opening night in a sold-out theater with people talking back to the screen (the way you do with horror movies) the whole time. The experience of being there was more enjoyable than the actual film, which is something I didn’t realize until I saw Freddy Vs. Jason by myself at home.”

        This makes me think of Aliens vs Predator: Requiem. What an awful movie. I am fairly sure I went with others to suffer this experience but it wasn’t so bad because of that. The transfer to DVD was absolutely terrible – everything is dark and hard to see.

      2. “Also, I went to a screening of the cult classic of “The Room” where audience participation is encouraged by handing out plastic spoons to throw at the screen.”

        Yeah, I’ve done that too, but at that time I knew little about “The Room” beyond it being super bad. I had no real idea why we were throwing plastic spoons. I found the experience a bit offputting, actually. Clearly works better if you’re in on the joke.

        “That’s a brilliant good idea. The record labels produce a huge number of CDs for each major artist and many end up in discount bins. Did you already own the CD when you went? ”

        No. I haven’t bought a Tom Petty CD since 2006, although I haven’t really bought any kind of music CD in several years. Digital albums, sure, but not physical.

        “I do really like the idea of being offered a digital copy of the film. I suppose they would hand out a voucher that has a start date after the screenings end. If they wanted to make an even better deal, they could offer a $10 discount on a physical copy at a participating chain store.”

        One of the things working against this idea is that surveys have revealed that the majority of people never even use those digital copies in the DVD/Blue-Rya/Digital combo packs. In the States, Wal-Mart, which owns the VOD service Vudu, is trying to work around that to the point that your accounts will be somehow linked up so that when you buy a digital copy-eligible of a movie at a Wal-Mart start the digital version will automatically upload to your Vudu account. I think it would probably bee too complicated for the movie theaters to pull something like that off, but if they wanted to hand me one of those Blue-Ray inlets with a Digital Code on it I would have no problem holding on to that and following the instructions. Because of the theatrical exclusive window, we’d still to wait as many as 3 months to get our digital copy, but I’ve noticed that Vudu has actually doing pre-sells when movies are still in theaters to ensure that you’ll get your digital copy as soon as it becomes available. So, they’re kind of already doing something like this – trying to get us to adapt to the digital version of something even though we won’t get to see it for several months. This way it would simply be part of the ticket price instead of two separate purchases.

        “This makes me think of Aliens vs Predator: Requiem. What an awful movie. I am fairly sure I went with others to suffer this experience but it wasn’t so bad because of that”

        It’s funny that in the “Are any movies worth seeing in theaters?” question we’re both going with, “Well, really bad movies are more enjoyable to watch with groups.” But Freddy Vs. Jason sticks out in my mind the same way Aliens Vs. Predator does for you. If I go back far enough, seeing Phantom Menace in theaters was pretty cool even if the movie wasn’t, and the excitement surrounding The Dark Knight and Inception translated to electric opening night crowds, for me at least.

  5. Not speaking for the US, but it is not that different over here. I try to avoid watching movies at the big chains but instead pick the few independent theatres which are still around. And when I have to go to the big chains, I bring my own drink and snaks, because all those extra costs is what mostly makes the movies so expensive (and you get less to offer for it). At this point, I only watch a few selected movies. More often I meet with friends at the home of someone who owns a beamer and watch movies there. It’s not quite the same experience, but time is a factor, too. If I go to the theatres I spend three hours at least and have seen only one movie. In this time I can watch two, which might not be as new, but it’s fun in any case.
    So, I think it is a combination of different factors. The movies which are offered are not the issue, though, or let’s it put that way: There are a few movies which I REALLY want to see in theatres, and a few which I might watch. The reality is that I usually end up only watching those I really want to see. I remember a time when it was different. When I went to the theatres and watched a movie on a whim. Nowadays I check the reviews and try to figure out which movies are truly worth watching in theatres. Because if I don’t like the movie, I will be angry about the wasted money.

    1. We don’t actually have any independent theaters in my town anymore, at least not ones which show first-run movies or are even open every day of the week or even the month (in other word, there are one or two art house venues that play things sporadically). That’s cool that you at least have a couple around you.

      I used to bring my own drink and snacks to movies. In fact, I grew up doing that, seeing movies with my mom when I was still little, her hiding red licorice in her purse for us. I kept doing it adulthood until someone called me out on it, essentially calling me cheap. So, I looked into it, and I did start to feel bad since North American theaters really do make their money at the concession stand. They gouge us on concessions because that’s where their profit is highest. That still annoys me, but I at least understand it. So, I simply stopped bringing anything (because I felt bad) or buying anything (because I can’t really afford it). However, I don’t really get mad whenever I hear people behind obviously opening smuggled candy or cans of pop or anything. I totally get it. Honestly, beyond cost I just stopped eating/drinking at the theater because I got tired of having to go to the bathroom at impromptu times.

      “The reality is that I usually end up only watching those I really want to see. I remember a time when it was different. When I went to the theatres and watched a movie on a whim. Nowadays I check the reviews and try to figure out which movies are truly worth watching in theatres. Because if I don’t like the movie, I will be angry about the wasted money.”

      Completely agree. I used to go to so many movies. Once I got to the point where I started having to buy my own tickets I did pay a little more attention to reviews, but I wasn’t nearly as ruled by them as I am now. Beyond that, it seems to me that Hollywood has tried to make the movie theater a venue which prioritizes spectacle and big budgets. I think I’ve let myself be trained by that to the point that I know I’ll see the big comic book movies in theaters, but if some indie like Still Alice comes along I might struggle more to justify the cost even though it might be a more personally enrichening viewing experience.

      1. The more independent theatres nearby are very small and usually show the non-mainstream stuff. Though there is one really big one (in fact, the biggest in Europe, when you go by the number of seats in one room), which mostly still exist because it is so old. I mean pre WW2 old. It even has a stage. The seating is not ideal because it is so old, but the atmosphere really makes up for it. The bad thing is that they rarely show a movie for longer than a week. But it sometimes worth it for movies which demand a more traditional setting. I loved watching Finding Neverland there, and sometimes they even show silent era movies with orchestra. And in this one, I don’t mind buying the stuff in the theatres at all, because they have resonable prices for everything and don’t force you to buy those giant cokes which will only result in you needing the toilet during a long movie. What’s wrong with 0,3 l bottles? They are perfect. I also love the fact that this theatre does sell smelly or crunchy food. They have really tasty liquorice which I haven’t seen anywhere else yet.

      2. “don’t force you to buy those giant cokes which will only result in you needing the toilet during a long movie. What’s wrong with 0,3 l bottles?”

        Yeah, the super-sizing of major theater concessions has never really gone down. It’s always refreshing, then, when you find somewhere that operates outside of that model. The theater you described sounds pretty awesome, and I could see where it would be a fantastic venue for Finding Neverland, particularly for the scene in the film at the Peter Pan premiere when all the little kids in the audience show up.

      3. It really is. It was on the verge of closing down, but the city decided to buy it and kept it a theatre. Now a lot of premieres are shown there again, like it used to be in the 1970s. But way too many movies just went down when the multiplex opened. But then the muliplex is now struggling too.

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