Movies

How Often Would You Pay Twenty Bucks To See A Movie In 3D?

several movie tickets.
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As The Wall Street Journal reports, and Slashfilm discusses, the price of a movie is going up this weekend — at three different chains at the same time. (Which seems odd, no?)

Here's the bottom line, per Slashfilm: "Media analyst Richard Greenfield surveyed ten markets, and found that on average 3D prices are rising 8%, while 3D IMAX prices are increasing by an almost 10% average. 2D showings, by contrast, are jumping only (ahem) 4% on average."

This drives ticket prices at one surveyed multiplex from $10 to $11 for a regular 2D movie, from $13.50 to $15 for a 3D movie, and from $15 to $17 for a 3D IMAX movie (and remember, IMAX does not mean what it used to).

It seems to me that the endgame here is to eventually settle 3D tickets at between $15 and $20. If you're lucky enough to live somewhere like New York, this is already true — Fandango shows a Manhattan AMC theater I picked out of a hat selling adult tickets to How To Train Your Dragon in plain old digital 3D for $17.50. Kids are $14.00. Remember, that's not 3D IMAX — 3D IMAX is $19.50 and $16.00.

Now, you have to remember, too, that studios don't want to let the market freely settle out 2D and 3D, in some cases. You'll recall the story about Paramount reportedly telling theater owners that if they didn't show Dragon in 3D, they wouldn't get it in 2D.

I am not trying to be one of those people who can't believe how much popcorn costs at the movies. I understand that going to the movies is expensive — the sodas are preposterously overpriced, because as we are always told, that's where the theater makes its money.

But I have to wonder: is the appetite for 3D — which has been impressive so far — limitless?

Probably not, after the jump.

Up to this point, the movies that have made a lot of money in 3D have been sort of "event" movies, where there was a clear argument (whether it turned out to be true or not) that the thing was specially suited for 3D — either because it's a sort of "event" movie, or because it's a kids' movie, or both.

But Martin Scorsese was recently quoted saying that there's no reason everything shouldn't be in 3D — specifically, he said a movie like Precious should be in 3D. Artistically, maybe that's right, and maybe it's wrong. Roger Ebert certainly thinks it's wrong. But economically, I'm unconvinced that the forces that get people to go and see Alice In Wonderland in 3D would also get them to go see, say, The Hangover in 3D. Or The Blind Side in 3D. And as Ebert points out at that link, needing to strong-arm theaters into showing a movie in 3D doesn't demonstrate great confidence that the studios believe people will pick 3D over 2D and patronize theaters accordingly.

I have no idea where the tipping point is, where the price will affect attendance. But there is significant pressure being applied here to people's wallets. Even at my local, non-New-York theater, it will cost $51 in tickets alone for a family of two adults and two kids, at matinee prices on a Saturday, to see How To Train Your Dragon in 3D. If you went to the movies with your kids four times — that's somewhere in the vicinity of six to eight hours of entertainment, with no popcorn — you would spend as much money as you would on a Wii.

The movie industry had a massively successful year last year, with not only higher ticket prices, but also great attendance. There was a ten percent increase in grosses, with only about a five percent increase in ticket prices. People went with the model. They went to movies in 3D. They also made successes out of 2D movies like the aforementioned Blind Side and Hangover entries, and also The Proposal and Paul Blart: Mall Cop.

Not to be the person who poses the question, "What is the price elasticity of demand for Paul Blart: Mall Cop", but ... what is the price elasticity of demand for Paul Blart: Mall Cop, if you start making ordinary movies in 3D? How much added value, with a movie like that, do you get from 3D? Don't you have to count the negatives, as well? One of my dear friends watched most of Avatar with the glasses off, because they gave her a headache. One of the kids I sometimes see 3D movies with takes the glasses off every time.

Obviously, we're a long way from every movie being made in 3D, but the next Step Up movie is coming in 3D, which is utterly idiotic, because that would be not one but two more dimensions than any other Step Up movie has ever had. (My theory is that they put it in 3D because "3D" was the only addendum to the title they could think of that had a "3" in it.)

And as the glut of 3D kids' movies and sci-fi movies and flying-monster movies increases, how likely is it that a family of four is going to spend fifty-one dollars, just in tickets? That $51 is $17 more than that same family would pay (at my same local theater, this weekend) to go to the non-3D Diary Of A Wimpy Kid instead. Make a similar choice four times, and that family saves $68, and still gets to see just as many movies.

I've been surprised how long they've pulled off the 3D thing at the prices they already had. I'm very curious about what a price bump will bring.

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