I love going to the movies. Not just the movies themselves; the entire process of going to the theater, buying popcorn and a soda, and experiencing the incredible richness of a film projected onto a massive screen while being completely immersed in surround sound. Yet for all of the joy this experience brings me, I rarely go to the movies any more.
It’s not that the quality of the films is so bad (though for a few years, that was certainly the case); it’s that the price of the experience has knocked me out of the movie-going habit. Instead of automatically planning on going to the movies each weekend, I now only go when there is a film that I (or my wife) really want (or demands) to see. Gone is the reflex of deciding to go see a movie and then finding out what is playing. A date to the movies easily runs to more than $35 – far too much investment to simply gamble that the experience will be worth it.
Movies are the only product where consumers pay the same price for the best, most expensive product as they do for the worst and cheapest made. Avatar cost $280 million to make, so forking over $10-$12 on an opening Friday night amidst long lines seems like a bargain. But an independent feature with questionable production values that cost $300,000 to produce and viewed in an empty theater on a Wednesday afternoon costs the same 10-12 bucks. We grew up with this business model and so we tacitly accept the dubious arrangement, but it was easier to accept when a ticket cost five, maybe six dollars. As the prices have continued to climb, most of us have developed new heuristics for evaluating movies: 1) See in theater; 2) Wait for the DVD 3) Maybe stumble upon it on cable; or, for the legally agnostic technophiles out there, 4) Pirate it.