The Cost of Going to the Movies Gets a Bad Rap

While my movie going has slowed down since I had kids, when I was childless I would go to the movies, on average, four or five times a month. I do the whole soda and candy thing (I’m not a popcorn guy); sometimes I may even get some actual food depending on the theater. I even know of some with full bars and food menus, as a matter of fact. While I often go during the day, even matinee prices are only a buck or two off of the full price anyhow so it barely even matters. So basically, my average solo trip to the movies can run me about $20-$25 if I go at night and get a decent amount of sustenance. So how do I feel about that? Just fine, thanks. And if you are the type to complain about how the moviegoing experience is too expensive, I’d like to say a few things in defense of a pastime that I still thoroughly enjoy, and one that I feel that no amount of at-home technical gadgetry can ever duplicate.

You may or may not share the sentiments that ended the last paragraph, but the fact of the matter is that going to the movies is not that expensive, and I find it amusing the ways that people use to exaggerate how much movies actually cost. For starters, the average movie ticket these days falls in the $8-$12 range (the higher end being for 3D movies). Obviously there are exceptions going both ways, but I think we can all accept $10 as the cost of a movie for the sake of argument from here on out. So, for $10 you get two hours of entertainment, which includes both the movie and previews of upcoming movies (which beats watching them on YouTube on your phone, you have to admit). Now, how many other things can you think of where you go out and only spend 10 bucks and are totally covered for two whole hours? Certainly you’d be hard-pressed to only spend that much at a bar in two hours, even if you don’t drink (unless of course you are one of these girls who goes out and makes it a point not to bring any money, expecting to be bought drinks all night, in which case I don’t much care what you think about anything related to spending money). A lot of bars and clubs will cost you at least that just to get in the door. What if you were to spend two hours in a mall? I think we can all agree that it would be quite a proud accomplishment to shop for that long and be out less than $10 – you’ll spend half that just getting Starbucks to sip on while you’re window shopping. Oh, and let’s not forget that if you are doing something in a big city, chances are you’re either going to cab it or have to pay to park somewhere, and we all know how hard those two things hit the wallet. Yes, a lot of theaters charge to park these days too, but I’ll get to the extra charges in a minute. So what else do people do when they “go out?” Dinner? Clubbing? Miniature golf? Bowling? Casino? Concert? Sporting event? Strip club? Bingo? The Circus? Tell me two hours doing any of those things aren’t easily going to set you back at least $10. The point I’m trying to hammer home here is that, in today’s world, a movie ticket is still quite reasonable – even at $10 – for the amount of entertainment you are getting.

Now, if you want to talk about movie quality, certainly some movies are going to feel more worth the money than others. But just about anything you do when you go out can end up being lame and feeling like a waste of money after of the fact. Is paying full price for a crappy movie so much worse than spending $20 on a dinner that didn’t end up being very good or paying the cover to a club only to find out it’s not really your scene and leave 10 minutes later? I just don’t see how a bad movie ranks as so much more offensive of a blow to our hard-earned money than when any number of other comparable activities end up not being what you thought they’d be. I don’t hear nearly as much bellyaching about spending all night at a boring party where you spent more money than you can even pinpoint than people do about losing 10 measly dollars on an underwhelming movie. And if you really want to get into movie quality, I also don’t care to hear whining from people who exclusively see all the big Hollywood movies that are advertised all over billboards and TV and featured in GIF form on Buzzfeed lists. It isn’t exactly a new phenomenon that the average Hollywood movie is nothing extraordinary. So, if your time and money are so precious to you, venture beyond whatever is the hot movie on the front page of Yahoo and take a few minutes to read about a smaller movie. I’m not talking about bizarre black-and-white French arthouse films about the life of Toulouse Lautrec; I just mean the more interesting and/or smaller-scoped flicks that weren’t “sure-fire” enough for big studio money. They aren’t all as inaccessible as you might think. Napolean Dynamite, The Blair Witch Project, Swingers, Clerks, Reservoir Dogs…these are all movies that at one time were little indie movies that weren’t playing all over the place and relied mostly on word-of-mouth, and I don’t think anyone would call any of them too quirky or weird for the average moviegoer. And that’s a great place to start: Find movies you like, find other lesser-known movies with the the same writer, director, or actor(s) and go from there. There are a ton of quality movies out there, you just have to look for them. Plus, you’ll often find that even the movies you don’t like will still at least be interesting, and you’ll feel more fulfilled than if you saw a big-budget dud because you at least took a chance on something different – and maybe you’ll see a preview for another interesting-looking movie that you’ll end up loving. Trust me, all you have to do is take that leap on your first indie movie, and you’ll see at least one interesting-looking trailer for another movie you’ll want to see, and it just snowballs from there.

Now we come to the part of the complainers’ argument that bothers me the most: adding anything and everything that isn’t the movie itself and counting that as the price of the movie. Fine, so you always get soda and popcorn. So I guess when you watch movies at home, you don’t eat while you’re watching them? Is Netflix giving out free pizza and pop with their movies now? I mean, fair is fair: If candy, popcorn, and drinks count towards the cost of a theatrical movie, then those potato chips and those pizza bites at home do, too. By all rights, anything you consume as part of your movie-watching experience must count towards the cost of that particular movie if that’s how you are going to do it with going to the theater. Sure, a can of Mountain Dew and a bowl of pretzels don’t cost nearly as much as theater snacks. But when you start really nitpicking in that way, plus the price of the movie rental (or purchase if you bought it outright),  the cost becomes a lot more comparable. And while we’re at it, what about your ultra hi-def Smart TV? What about your Blu-Ray player , game console, set top box, etc? What about your your fancy surround sound set-up? By all rights, these all count, as you all of this is part of your movie watching. So take the amount of money you spent on your entire home theater system, and divide it up evenly amongst all the movies you rent or buy. You’ll have to rent a whole lot of movies before you are able to say that you are spending less than $10 per movie, especially if you’re renting your movies via a digital service or pay-per-view of some kind – that’s halfway to your 10 bucks right there in many cases.

Did all of those comparisons sound ridiculous? That’s because they are. But it’s ridiculous the other way, too. Is it fair to say a Big Mac costs the price you pay for a Big Mac meal with fries and a drink (and an apple pie)? Should you add coffee and donuts to the amount you spend to fill up your gas tank since you always get those things when you’re at the gas station? And speaking of gas, shouldn’t you just go ahead and factor in the cost of gas as the price you pay when you use it to go anywhere? The movie itself costs what it costs. Everything else is separate/extra. It is all optional. Because you simply can’t resist those Junior Mints doesn’t make it the movie’s fault. There is so much useless junk we throw wads of cash at on a daily basis; I just don’t see why movies are so much more evil than anything else. In a world where coffee costs $5, t-shirts costs $30, and video games cost $60, why are we suddenly so thrifty and self-righteous when it comes to the comparably meager cost of a movie ticket?

Everything is expensive these days, and our paychecks don’t seem to keep up with the inflation like they are supposed to. Relatively speaking, movies are a bargain. Yeah, I said it: a bargain. You don’t have to agree with me. It’d be nice if I changed some minds, but if I didn’t, oh well. That’s one less fidgety person in the theater who doesn’t want to be there, ruining the experience for the rest of us who still enjoy and appreciate it.