One man’s rant: the soaring cost of going to the cinema

In the world of cinemas, there's a 30,000 percent mark-up on popcorn, and larger seats come at a hefty premium. Luke's had just about as much he can stand…


I think we can all agree that Dragon’s Den is an abomination. Admittedly, so is all reality TV to a fair extent, but ‘The Den’ exists as nothing but the televised crushing of the dreams of an endless conveyor line of desperately hopeful, quivering little heaps of borrowed hubris, some of which, it has to be said, are a little bit ‘mittens on strings’, if you get my drift.

This perennial influx of simpering little munchkins battle for the short-lived attentions of a bunch of hatefully smug, nouveau riche toss cloths, and they quiver and stutter and sweat in front of that panel of altruistic arse lickery, not to mention millions of cringe-voyeurs all watching at home, before being dispatched after being told in no uncertain terms that their dreams are, in the business vernacular, ‘shit’.

They go home and cry, probably, and die a little inside. As do we all.

The problem is I have a top-notch business idea. To spare myself the fate of those ruefully pitied above, however, I’d like to share my idea with you fine folks, if I may. I want to see if anyone would be interested in joining forces in this mighty business, so we may potentially meet up to ‘do’ a lunch, discuss ‘figures’ and blue-sky them ‘projections’ and, in time, throw down the soulless shackles of nine to five and become completely stinking loaded.

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The genius of this business plan is that it’s not a business plan at all, oh no. It’s an ethos that can be successfully transposed to any conceivable area of commerce, thus creating endless streams of pretty green no matter where we cast our greedy little sights. Let me elaborate with an example, thus.

If we, as business partners, were to open a garage, for instance, it would, to the untrained eye, resemble any other garage, what with wrenches strewn about, lots of men called ‘Kev’ and at least one misogynistic calendar four years out of date. However, when someone brings their car in for four new tyres, what we’d do would be to change two of them for new ones, removing the other two wheels completely and hiding them.

Stick with me on this, the genius comes next.

Then we’d bill the punter full price for four new tyres, while explaining they could have the other two, with a spare, for an additional thirty pounds. See? We’d make an extra thirty pounds every time. It’s bulletproof.

And it works with anything! Let’s try a sandwich shop. If some chump came in for a meatball sub we’d say, “Right away!” and charge them. This particular chump had been coming in to this same sandwich shop every day for years, up to this point, without discernible incident. Today we blindside them, and give them one slice of bread, one meatball, and a handful of our own pubic hair.

If the customer takes umbrage with either the bread, meat or trouser fluff, we will say, “For an extra two pounds you can have a full meatball sub, without pubes, plus a free cup of tea.” They would clearly pay us handsomely, and we’d be millionaires, literally, within minutes.

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So, are there any takers? Would anyone like to go into business with me to perhaps set up a plush consultancy adorned with Apple Macs and open plan offices, where we’d charge companies £250 an hour to give their board members PowerPoint presentations of how to instil our ‘Less-Product-For-The-Same-Price-Or-More-Product-For-A-Premium-Even-Though-You-Didn’t-Ever-Want-It’ (L.P.F.T.S.P.O.M.P.F.A.P.E.T.Y.D.E.W.I, ©)  dynamic?

Isn’t this just the best idea ever?

Well, no, as it happens, it isn’t. In fact, this is perhaps the worst business plan since Anne Frank tentatively suggested setting up her Home Drum Academy. No business in their right minds would treat their customers like this, would they?

What? Some do? And they still turn a profit? Which business could get away with charging more to receive a lesser service? You can guess, can’t you, and it is you and I who will obviously bear the brunt.

That’s right, our friend cinema is up to its old tricks again. The cheeky, cheeky bastard.

The other day my missus and I decided to go and see Russell Brand being paid handsomely to pretend to be Russell Brand, but in a film, and we bought our tickets, a tub of popcorn and a fizzy beverage. Didn’t see much change from twenty-five pounds, there, but no worry.

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Then we go into the cinema and sit down, only to find the drinks holders have been surreptitiously removed since our last visit. Not only this, but either my legs are prone to spontaneous structural erections or there is decidedly less legroom than when I last visited not two weeks ago. It didn’t take long to find out why.

The three rows in front of us have been refitted. “VIP SEATING”, a sign says. Huge chairs that each take up the space of two original pauper stools, soft leather armrests with two drinks holders and a slot for popcorn. And, oh yes, there’s all my legroom, right there billowing about in huge, superfluous clouds, as each and every one of these seats remained unoccupied for the entire duration of the film, while all the cheap seats (now sans legroom and holders) were filled with an increasingly exasperated gaggle of irate Northeners who’d just spilled another glug of icy Sprite right across their genitals.

On the way out we realised that we simple, common minions of the proletariat could have basked upon these reclining thrones of decadence for an extra £1.10. A bargain, naturally. Perhaps we could have paid even more for seats with inbuilt commodes, so we could have pissed and pooed freely throughout the entertainment like spoiled little Romans. All for that additional fee, of course.

Or, for an additional, say,  twenty pounds per ticket (which everyone would pay) we could perhaps be allowed to skip the condescending clip of Matthew Horne thanking us for paying to see films in cinemas and not resorting to filthy piracy, even though if I was watching this at home on a snide DVD I wouldn’t have to listen to you wibble your career away and I’d at least have somewhere to put my bloody drink while I concentrated all my conscious effort into hating you, sir.

This is business and money has to be made. Fine, we get it, but the ‘3D tax’ is a pill that many of us are still finding difficult to swallow and, as it is, a lot of cinemas still charge premium prices regardless of whether you take your own glasses or not. Covering the costs of new projectors, my arse. This is a blatant attack on the wallets of the very people who actually make the effort to leave their homes and keep your business afloat, because we are unfortunate enough to love going to see movies.

It seems cinema chains are simply experimenting with ways of wringing extra pounds out of us with very little extra effort on their part, but making the standard experience worse in order to coerce punters into paying for a premium product they never wanted is cynical, self-destructive and just plain unacceptable.

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If cinema chains want to increase revenues they should enhance the basic experience, not detract from it. It’s that simple.

I understand that bitching and moaning about a spilled drink and the odd couple of quid here or there may sound a bit curmudgeonly, and if you go to the pictures on your own or with the other half, then paying an extra couple of quid to sit comfortably probably won’t cause you too many ills.

But if you have a family and the young ‘uns want to go and see every animated fluffathon released throughout the summer, then the pictures is not a cheap night out at the best of times. And the added costs, not to mention the added stresses brought about by these cloak-and-dagger changes, might just make you think twice, and maybe you might just decide to go to Pizza Hut instead. Before you know it, the children are fat. Cause – effect.

Cinema has already enjoyed mind boggling mark-ups on its non-essential items for decades. Did you know, for example, that the mark-up on popcorn is 30,000%? The BFI itself stated that popcorn is “the most profitable substance on the planet, more than heroin, more than plutonium. The actual popcorn costs less to produce than the cardboard container it comes in.”

This isn’t a problem, though, as it is intrinsically part of the experience we pay for, and most of us accept the eccentricities of the cinematic pricing structure without even blinking. The point is, we’re paying above the odds as it is.

As part of the price of the ticket, though, I thought we’d paid for a seat. I want to be able to spend two hours without suffering from leg cramps so intense I think I’m giving birth to a filing cabinet. I want to be able to put down my drink so that it’s not instantly kicked over by every feckless toilet-goer with a bladder the size of an electron. I also don’t want to pay a premium price to be able to do any of this.

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We used to be able to do this at my local cinema and hopefully mine is a rare case, although the fact it is part of a very large chain is worrying. There’s a Cineworld in the next town that isn’t quite so desperate for cash and that is where mine will be heading from now on.

Cinema has enjoyed its most profitable decade of all time, and perhaps those that made it so have earned the continued right to the experience they’ve coughed up to enjoy up until now.

Just a thought.