Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Candy Is Dandy, But Costly

I have probably spent more time in a darkened movie theatre than most people. I grew up being a major film buff. As a teenager I spent six years working in cinemas in jobs from usher to projectionist. And one of my first gigs in the media was as a movie critic. So I have a bit of experience sitting in the dark, feet on a sticky floor, watching still pictures bounce off the wall at 24 frames per second. In my theatre working days I also sold quite a bit of merchandise at the concession stand. Because of this, I find a current lawsuit in the news rather amusing.

In the state of Michigan a class action case has been filed against the AMC Theatre chain. It would appear that a penny-pinching patron is upset because of the high cost of movie snacks and the double whammy of the movie house denying him the ability to bring his own soda and candy in. Oh, the horror!

The 20-something plaintiff says he’s tired of movie theatres taking advantage of him. He's suing because he believes the chain is in alleged violation of Michigan's Consumer Protection Act.

While I cannot dispute that movie snack prices are outrageous, I can also state from personal experience that this has always been the case. Let’s go back to the simple days of my youth when everything was cheaper (no, a loaf of bread wasn’t a nickel; that was in my Dad’s day!)

In the outside world (that would be any corner store) I could get a ten ounce Coke for fifteen cents and a bag of chips for a dime – total expenditure, one whole quarter. In the movie theatre that I worked at, that quarter wouldn’t even get me the same sized drink. That was 35 cents (and that drink was considered the small cup, which we kind of hid away because we were prone to selling larger ones). The bag of chips was 50 cents. So, you see, the movie theatre mark ups were disproportionately high then too.

In today’s world, it’s not only the mark ups that are high, but the size of the containers the food comes in. Soft drink cups so large that they have an undertow, and popcorn containers big enough to require a gas station pump to add the butter, seem to be the norm. And with those big containers, naturally comes even bigger prices.

Analysts recently reported that for every dollar spent on candy and soda in movie theatres, 85% is pure profit. Another study shows that $30 worth of raw popcorn is worth as much as $3,000 to movie theatres.

And contrary to what some in the general population believe, theatres don’t really make their money on the ticket prices, as most of that goes back to the studios. Theatres clearly get their biggest bang for their buck playing the role of pusher to the sugar junkies that line up like Pavlov’s dogs at the mere scent of popcorn in the air. Believe it or not, the high cost of the food is what’s actually keeping the ticket prices where they are (and many believe they are also high enough as it is already).

Going back to my movie working days, we were very cognisant of understanding on which side our popcorn was buttered. I was a master at making popcorn. The trick was making about three or four batches the normal way in those big industrial machines; then adding another batch that was heavily laden with popcorn salt. When you mix them all together that salty kernel you popped in your mouth was like a time released capsule designed to make you want to drink more (and possibly stroke out a diabetic).

So I understand the anger some might feel about being gouged at the candy counter. And I sympathize with the fellow that feels so strongly about the prices that he wants to sue. But conventional wisdom doesn’t believe this lawsuit has any legs. And for me, I believe the reasons for failure are two-fold. One, nowhere does it say that you have to buy snacks; and two, how did we get to a point in society where people can’t even last 90 minutes without eating?

When I go to the theatre, I fill up on entertainment, not snacks. Movie theatres probably hate me, because all they’re getting out of my wallet is the price of admission.

That’s the Stuph – the way I see it.


  1. I am more than content NOT to buy the drinks or snacks at the cinema. Yes, those drinks are huge and inevitably I will have to excuse myself for a pitstop probably in a crucial point in the movie (which I hate to do).

    At least when you're home watching a movie on DVD you can stop or rewind that puppy and you don't miss out on anything. Can't do that in the movie theatre.

  2. Lol, I can't believe you were around when Coke and chips cost a quarter. (You're dating yourself!)

    But yes, if people are so upset about the cost of movie snacks, no one is forcing them to get anything. Eat at home before you come. (Or sneak something in - that's the beauty of women and their big bags!!)

    I myself usually get one small bag of popcorn :-) I'm not really a candy person.

    1. Linda, as an usher it was also my job to search the ladies with big bags, and believe me, I was better than the folks at the TSA!

  3. It should disturb us all that we're now at a point where even if the prices are (in that person's mind) more expensive now than ever... that someone can't wait two hours before another feeding.

  4. Peter I feel just like you do on this matter. Going to a theatre is one thing and this business of people having to eat every time they go to watch a flick is a bad habit that people have got over the years.

    Movies and popcorn have been related to each others since before we had the academy awards.

  5. Would he bring his own steak to a restaurant because theirs is too expensive???

    Stop the madness.

  6. Legs? Conventional wisdom? this guy should be strung up by his heels and flogged for cheapness and stupidity. Concession stands are set up to make you concede (to relinquish grudgingly or hesitantly) handfuls of cash in exchange for puffed kernels and cavaties. Nobody has a gun pressed against your head although it may seem like a rifle pointed at your groin if you're with a first date with a hottie who sports an expectanct smile as she grabs your arm and exclaims "I love pigging out at the movies" after you've just forked out $80.00 for dinner and $37.50 for 2 tickets to the lates "Movie of the Year....". If I but the popcorn and she doesn't put out...can I sue her?