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Sneaky Ways Movie Theaters Get You To Spend More Money


So, I just saw the new “Spider-Man.” The ticket cost $12, my popcorn was $8, the candy was $4.50, and my soda was $6. That’s over $30 for just one person. Movie theaters are like
theme parks or carnivals. Once inside, you play by their rules. And if you’re like me, you spend way more than you expect to. AMC isn’t really selling
you a movie ticket. They’re selling you this food. You can’t get in here
without spending money. It all starts with the ticket. You might have heard that
movie-ticket prices keep climbing, averaging over $9 nationwide, and almost twice that in big cities. Going to see a movie
means you have to spend at least the cost of admission. But if you think that money is going to the theater, you’re wrong. Chains like Regal and AMC keep only about 50% of the money they take from ticket sales each year. The bulk of that ticket price
goes back to the distributor. And if you want to see
a higher-quality format, you have to pay a huge premium. But it doesn’t really matter
how much your ticket costs, because if you’re going
to a movie theater, chances are you’re buying some food. AMC reports that more
than 71% of attendees purchase something at concessions. Kim Moon: If they did
not have concessions, they wouldn’t be in business. Narrator: That’s Kim Moon. She’s a marketing instructor at the University of Illinois at Chicago. And she’s right. Without concession sales, both AMC and Regal
would not make a profit. Moon: So, when you walk into a theater, you will see tons and tons of imagery, as it relates to food and beverage. Narrator: Most movie theaters are designed so you have to walk past
the concession counter. The actual movies are tucked
away, down long, dark hallways. But as soon as you get inside the theater, the food is bright, colorful, and, thanks to the glass
cases, visible at every angle. You can see popcorn popping, stacks of candy, and giant soda machines. Kit Yarrow: The big, huge boxes serve sort of like a billboard effect. They’re enormous and so calling out to you more than an appropriately sized box. When you open it up, though, it’s about the same
amount of candy in there as a small box that you
might find at the drugstore. Narrator: All of this is
surrounded by TV screens that loop beautiful shots
of soda and popcorn. Food is constantly
grabbing your attention. Unlike a restaurant, where the
food is prepared out of view, a movie theater makes everything
right in front of you. Yarrow: Visually taking over the space, they also are physically
taking over the space. It’s really hard to get around it. You kind of have to stop,
figure out where you’re going, and, in the process, you’re being exposed to all of that stimulation. We’re queuing people,
psychologically, to want something. Narrator: And then there is the smell. Aah, that heavenly smell. Ingrained in every moviegoer’s brain is the smell of buttery popcorn. This smell gets your attention
as soon as you walk in and evokes a sense of nostalgia. You probably don’t eat a tub of popcorn and a box of Buncha Crunch
at home, but here, you do. And in bigger theaters, there might even be
multiple concession areas. If your auditorium is on a higher floor, get ready to pass by two
or three tempting displays. And because no outside
food or drink is allowed, if you want to eat something
during your two-hour movie, you have to get it at the theater. OK, so you want to buy just one thing, something small and cheap. Well, good luck. All of the items at
concessions are more expensive than what you would pay
outside the theater. And, often, you can’t
even find a small size. So you have to choose
between regular and large. What does regular even mean? The large seems like a better deal. It’s only a dollar more. So you may be tempted
to spend a little extra. And if you’re going to eat
all of that salty popcorn, you’re probably going to get thirsty. So you’ll buy a drink, too. And that’s great news for the theater. Because all of the food sold at concessions has a huge profit margin. That means they’re cheap to make but are sold at a high price. Remember that $8 popcorn? Theaters make a lot more
on that bag of popcorn than they make on your ticket. Let me show you what I mean. In 2018, 62% of AMC’s total revenue came from admissions. Thirty-one percent was from concessions. But AMC was able to keep almost 84% of that concession revenue as profit, compared to just under 50% that they were able to
keep from admissions. Basically, if you spend $1
on food, AMC keeps $0.84. But if you spend $1 on a
ticket, it keeps only $0.50. So it will do whatever it can to get you to spend more money on food. Moon: Buy one, get one free;
free upgrades; free refills; what they’re doing is
using price discrimination. Narrator: That means they’ll offer you a greater value with a larger size. The margins aren’t as good, but the theater is still
getting more of your money. And movie theaters love to offer combos. Popcorn with soda, a hot dog with fries, candy and a slushy, pretty much any combination
you can think of. Unfortunately, those combos
usually aren’t a great deal. Unless you’re sharing in a big group, you’ll probably be stuck with
more food than you can eat and free refills that you won’t use. Yarrow: They end up wasting
a lot of that popcorn, but, most importantly, they
end up wasting that money. Narrator: Many theaters have
also started offering things like alcoholic beverages and full meals. These might bring a better experience, but they also allow theaters to charge an even higher premium. Like this AMC deal that
offers a hot dog, curly fries, and a chocolate-chip cookie for $13. Combine all of this
with bright-red colors, warm lighting on the
food, and brand tie-ins, and it’s tough to walk
away from the counter with just one thing. But the tricks don’t stop at the lobby. Theaters list movie start times that are 15 to 20 minutes earlier than when the movie actually starts. This helps the theater in two ways. It allows them to show more
commercials before the trailers, which is another source of revenue, and it keeps moviegoers
sitting and waiting for longer. If you have to sit through 20
minutes of ads and trailers, you might give in and
go grab a box of candy, especially if those commercials
are for food and soda. And delayed start times also remove the pressure of missing
the beginning of the movie. So you might not mind waiting
in line for some snacks. Each interaction is designed to get you to spend money on concessions. Just look at the ticket window compared to the concession counter. At this AMC, the ticket window is plain and not very stimulating. But the concession counter is
bright, colorful, and branded. It immediately catches your eye. But those are the tricks they use only when you’re actually at the theater. Theaters are also experts at getting you back to see another movie. Reward points and special-access
programs get consumers to go to the movies more often. Gaining points for each dollar you spend is a great motivator to buy a little more than you normally would. Moon: They report their members
going to movies more often with the subscription than without. And, of course, these members
will bring their friends and their families, who
will pay full price. Narrator: And if you
saved money on your ticket with a program like AMC A-List, you might be more willing
to spend money on food. Some of these programs can
actually save you money, but you shouldn’t spend more just to get points or discounts faster. Of course, if your loyalty
program is on an app, the theater has 24/7
access to your attention and can send push notifications with details about promos and deals, like this AMC ad that offers free popcorn when you purchase a
ticket for your friend. Even when you’re not at the theater, they’re still trying to
get you to spend money. You might be pretty annoyed
at movie theaters right now, but it’s not an easy business. Avid moviegoers want modern,
well-maintained theaters with high-quality formats, and because so much of the ticket price is going to the distributor, theaters have to find
alternative sources of revenue, which means snacks and drinks. So, should you just stay home, throw some Orville
Redenbacher in the microwave, and watch only what’s on Netflix? Of course not! Going to the movies is supposed to be fun. But you have to make sure
the movie you’re seeing and the food you’re eating
is what you actually want, not just something that has been constantly advertised to you. And these tactics are employed best at big chains, like Regal or AMC. At a local theater, you’ll often find cheaper
concessions and tickets. So, what can you do to save money? Moon: Eat before you go.

100 Comments

  1. Lisa Barnes Author

    The Lisa Barnes movie pack:

    Hot fries Cheetos OR Lays Classic Chips

    Your choice of fast foods

    Drinks: Water, generic fountain drinks, alcohol

    ALL AT YOUR LOCAL DRUG STORE (dollar tree, Walgreens, CVS, etc.)

    Reply
  2. Melanie Author

    71% of people buy concessions?!!! I had no idea it was that high lol, this must be an American thing. In the uk we’d never waste money on over priced snacks 😂😂😂 especially because most of our movie theatres are in shopping complexes, so there’s places to get food elsewhere

    Reply
  3. Tom Servo Author

    I want to hear how sneaky ways movie theaters prevent people from looking at their phones … or talking … or bringing babies to R movies. These problems are getting worse.

    Reply
  4. noname22541 Author

    At my mall, there are small snack place with popcorn, candy and soda, almost like they know. I would say 90% of people go to the snack place before going to movies.

    Reply
  5. Andrea Collier Author

    Once, a theater worker insisted I leave my hand bag at the counter. (I was sitting in the lobby area, right after buying my ticket.) I hate having to leave my stuff, so I offered to let her see inside it to show it was safe. She saw my bag of microwave popcorn and said I wasn't allowed to have it. She stood there, expecting me to hand it over. I politely requested she give me a minute to get my stuff together. She rolled her eyes and walked away. At that moment, I pulled out my 20oz bottle of root beer and shoved it in my purse. I then handed over my hand bag, which contained my half burned popcorn. Yeah, I was pretty upset.

    Reply
  6. Club_ Gaming_FTW Author

    Well ur pretty dumb if you buy a 5$ water bottle I sneak all my snacks in I spend 4 bucks and 4 things while y’all are spending 15

    Reply
  7. Yoseppi Joe Author

    I sneak everything in except the popcorn is worth the price, kinda as long as you get the big one with free refills, and refill them on the way out.

    Just for that liquid butter pump machine.

    I eat the popcorn for the next day at home.

    Reply
  8. Lauren C Author

    Most places give water for free at the fountain machines if you bring your own cup. A sachet of an instant drink concealed in my pocket mean no soda pop revenue. As for popcorn, I hate the stuff. Doesn't taste particularly special, and the kernels getting stuck in my teeth make me regret ever thinking of the idea.

    Reply
  9. Auron Grande Author

    I don't sneak food in or buy the concessions. I don't like popcorn and everything else has either gluten or lactose in it (or both) which means I can't have them. So it's the movie ticket only for me.

    Reply
  10. millionfish animation Author

    I can't remember the last time I purchased snacks from the theatre. I just go to the dollar store beforehand and get my treats for much cheaper.

    Reply
  11. Crayon Monster Author

    I go to the movies almost every month but I don't buy any snacks. As soon as the movie is over I go to the nearby fast food joint to eat.

    Reply
  12. Saif Al Shamisi Author

    You guys are stupid what do u think ????? They will let you for free ,,, they'v ented a huge place they pay workers they pay alot of money to make alot of money so dont be greedy abd u want a free cinema all businesses like this for example cloths it costs 1-3$ and they sell it for 20$ ,,, whyyy because the are businesses they want to make money so for second time dont be so greedy and want everything for free because if u have business you will not giv anything for free

    Reply
  13. syra danielle Author

    But I mean if that's how they are able to make a profit then I'm ok with it. I feel bad when everyone is saying they sneak stuff in. Overpriced? yes for sure but hey we all have to make a living. If everyone did that then they'll be more enforced rules or maybe even movie theatres shutting down.

    Reply
  14. flaskzy Author

    I can resist not buying any food and beverages but that just means I slowly take cinemas out of business which would not benefit anyone, so for the sake of the bigger picture I think I stay with buying that delicious popcorn

    Reply
  15. Vanessa Bayardo Author

    For those of you saying that you sneak food in, our movie theater actually checks the inside of your purse, even after you just bought something at their concession stand.

    Reply
  16. mudpuddlepanda Author

    All that is fine but why is the narrator sounding as if he is being turned on when he mentions food items like popcorn and caaanddy ooh my

    Reply
  17. Skibbler Author

    i'm australian and there is nothing wrong with having outside food and drink so i always go to coles (grocery store) to get a bunch of lollies

    Reply
  18. David Hernandez Author

    Did this guy really think he was uncovering what they were doing…. this is kinda common knowledge… side note I sneak in full meals into the movie lol

    Reply
  19. UnboxLink Author

    best joke i heard ever he says they make no miney on tickets but then tells us they get 50% of ticket sales i would hate to see him do maths if he thinks 50% is nothing 🤣🤣

    Reply
  20. Aura Companion Author

    I legit have drawstring backpack with oreos in it. I bought the Slushe cup once and I just put it in my jawstring then i take the cup out of my backpack fill it up with a slushie and head on it, wash the cup when i get home. They dont even check my jaw-string when i go in so we good (I dont think the employees care tbh).

    Reply
  21. ItsGaming Pokemon Author

    My theater has a monthly payment were you pay 60$ for four people and you get to watch unlimited movies. The snack are pretty hefty so we usually go to the dollar built right next to it . So we don’t spend too much

    Reply
  22. Alejandro David Dumas Author

    I love going to the movies and spending nobody is forcing anyone it's a business and they have to make money besides the movie theaters are really nice they have huge screens if you can't afford it or are cheap stay home 🙄😏

    Reply
  23. Enomaos33 Author

    If you live in Brazil here's something you should know:
    You are legally allowed to bring food from other stores, you don't have to sneak food in, and if they try to stop you, they are violating the law.

    (Eu normalmente compro umas barras de chocolate nas Americanas e gasto 15 pila ao invés de 50)

    Reply
  24. Yuriko Author

    In the Philippines it is ok to bring food in the cinema, the ticket price is cheap too ito can be 4-7$ just not imax. There isn't a rule of no outside foods allowed.

    Reply
  25. Rina N Author

    Last time I went to the movies I snuck in 2 muffins and a Fiji water. Best movie experience ever. The muffins were from this really delicious muffin store and I've been buying from them for years! It's handmade btw.

    Reply
  26. Gangstabob716 Author

    Ive been poor and went to theaters, and even when I make good money now, I never get tempted to buy anything from the concession stands. Just like how its psychological to show appetizing food before going in the theater, the price is outrageous enough to act as a psychological deterrent. Its just not worth it. Plus i sneak in food most of the time

    Reply
  27. Roxor128 Author

    My local cinema was originally designed with separate ticket and snacks counters, but for a number of years now, they've had the tickets counter closed and just occupied by a TV to show promos, while the actual ticket sales happen at the same counter as selling the snacks.

    This makes sense on several levels.

    1. Most people are going to be buying snacks, so it saves having them go and wait in line again after getting their ticket, meaning happier customers.
    2. They have a printer at the snacks counter for printing receipts, anyway. Why not reuse it for printing tickets, too?
    3. More efficient use of the staff's time. Two sales at once at the snacks counter vs one at the old tickets one, and unless there was really high demand (eg, a big blockbuster that half the town wanted to see on the weekend) where they needed an extra staff member, one of the staff would be walking back and forth between the tickets counter and the left snacks one. Sure, it was only 1-2 metres, but that would really add up over the course of a day.

    Also, those popcorn buckets you showed in the video are much bigger than the ones at my local cinema. They're like buying a large and a medium together. No wonder you can't eat it all!

    Reply
  28. Toasty Cosplay Author

    Heres the thing. I dont go to cinemas all the time but when I cant afford anything else but the movie ticket I eat at home. When I plan on spending a lot of money I do it on purpose. I'm taking my boyfriend to Joker next month and Im spending a lot of money on purpose because it's our anniversary and his birthday gift.

    Reply
  29. Toasty Cosplay Author

    Depends on how rich or poor you are in the month. I'll be richer next month. However, I only see 1 to 3 movies a year so I rarely go to the cinema. I'm picky with my movies too which helps me save money.

    Reply
  30. Toasty Cosplay Author

    I also go on Tuesdays when the movie ticket is only 9. Cheapy Tuesdays are the best. Like I was saying I dont eat this junk everyday either. I actually dont drink soda.

    Reply
  31. Lexa Garvey Author

    I was at a regal last night with Unlimited, and there were 9 employees in the concession lobby where you have to buy tickets after dark. 2 restocking candy, 1 person sweeping. Then 1 person on the register, 2-ish people trying to make food. 3 people just running doing god knows what. I still spent 5 minutes waiting.

    Reply
  32. Connie Rogers Author

    This must be filmed at the amc in Chicago, cuz I see the cheese and Carmel mix popcorn on the sign…. me personally I always buy popcorn and pop when I go to the movies… I pay for the experience as a whole and I like it👍

    Reply
  33. Jason Xu Author

    They should make a video, "Sneaky ways business insider gets you to watch 20 videos in a row with out clicking a single thing" That's literally what just happened

    Reply

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