Culture Cents 

Go to the movies? At these prices it’s got to be a great flick to get me off the couch

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If you decide to spend a night out at the movies, you better be certain you’re going to love that film.

In my opinion, movie-going has become too expensive to be a casual pastime anymore.

The theater industry says the average ticket costs right around $8, but that has to include discounted prices for kids and seniors.

I don’t know about you, but I can’t remember the last time I paid anything like $8 to get into a movie. So I went online to see how much the typical adult ticket cost.

I found theaters charging $13.75 in New York City and $12 in San Francisco. Prices were somewhat lower at suburban Boston ($11) and Minneapolis ($10.75) and a big college town like Austin ($10).

But $8? Not until I checked a theater in Grinnell, Iowa (population 9,100). There I found an $8 adult ticket.

If you want to see that blockbuster action flick in 3-D or IMAX, expect a $3 to $5 surcharge added onto every ticket.

Order your movie tickets online and the service charge can be as much as 20% of the ticket price.

Then there’s the inevitable trip to the concession stand. By at least one measurement it’s the popcorn that’s killing us – literally and financially.

Back in 1929, a movie ticket cost 35 cents and a bag of popcorn only a nickel. That’s the equivalent of $4.32 and 62 cents in today’s dollars after inflation is taken into account.

That means the real cost of a typical ticket has doubled or tripled over the past 85 years ago. But the typical small popcorn, which runs about $4.75 today, is seven times more costly.

No wonder a family of four can easily spend $60 or more treating the kids to the latest, relentlessly promoted Disney blockbuster.

Is it even possible to try and hold your costs down by telling our youngsters “No,” they can’t see the 3-D version of the movie or “No,” they can’t have any snacks? What kind of family fun is that?

And then there’s the latest plan to make movie going more enjoyable — but pricey.

I’m talking about fully reclining seats.

AMC, the nation’s second-largest movie theater chain, is spending hundreds of millions of dollars to outfit auditoriums with La-Z-Boy-style seats, just like the ones in your family room.

According to the Wall Street Journal, “AMC plans to wait a year after upgrading its theaters before raising ticket prices.”

Ah, but premium seating will come with a premium price. When that increase arrives sometime next year, expect to pay $1 to $2 more to sit in one of AMC’s reclining seats.

(I’d rather see a new plan to simply clean theater seats after reading this ABC News report about all of the bacteria lurking on them.)

One solution to the problem of exorbitant movie viewing fees is checking out late-run movie theaters. However, with the advent of Netflix and other viewing systems like Apple TV, going to a discount theater seems to defeat the purpose altogether.

Plus, if your standard movie theater has a bacteria problem…well there’s a reason discount theaters are so cheap.

(I once heard of a discount theater in which a person died of a heart attack mid-film. The crew covered his body with a tarp and vacuumed around it.)

No wonder three out of every five respondents in a 2012 survey said they “rarely or never go out to the movies.” More than half of those adults who told poll takers that they regularly went said they were going less often.

I must say that I’m in the “rare or never” boat. I’d almost rather watch reruns on YouTube from the comfort of a relatively disease-free couch, eating snacks just a little bit closer to their market price.

It takes a knock-my-socks-off story line and lots of glowing reviews to get me into a theater these days.

This summer, for example, I considered seeing Tammy, Melissa McCarthy’s latest star turn. But after critics panned it, I decided to stick with my couch.

At these prices I have zero-tolerance for disappointment.

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