Finally. Guy sues movie theaters over popcorn prices

posted at 9:20 am on March 6, 2012 by Jazz Shaw

The last time we went to the theater to see a movie was in January. (It was the second Sherlock Holmes film, by the way, which was quite good if haven’t caught it yet.) We went in the middle of the afternoon, as usual, because the matinee showings are considerably cheaper. The tickets were five dollars each. Two medium bags of popcorn and two slushies came to nearly twenty bucks. I couldn’t resist trotting out my standard comment of, “does that come with a loan application?”

I always feel bad about that because the poor worker – usually some college student trying to pick up a few extra bucks – obviously doesn’t set the prices and has to put up with carping customers all night long. But it’s absolutely frustrating to pay that much for a few snacks, and of course they try to ban you from bringing in your own. Well, at long last, one brave citizen is fed up with it and is taking action.

Joshua Thompson loves the movies.

But he hates the prices theaters charge for concessions like pop and candy.

This week, the 20-something security technician from Livonia decided to do something about it: He filed a class action in Wayne County Circuit Court against his local AMC theater in hopes of forcing theaters statewide to dial down snack prices.

“He got tired of being taken advantage of,” said Thompson’s lawyer, Kerry Morgan of Wyandotte. “It’s hard to justify prices that are three- and four-times higher than anywhere else.”

While the idea might make some frustrated consumers feel better, every legal analyst who chimed in for the article above held the same opinion. This suit has pretty much zero chance of going anywhere and will likely be dismissed out of hand as soon as it reaches a judge. And the reality of it is that it should.

There just isn’t a compelling argument to demonstrate any sort of leverage over the consumer or unfair business practices, frustrating though that might be. Yes, I complain about the cost of their snacks, but nobody is forcing me to go see the movie. And even if I do, I could just drink some water from the public fountain and eat before I go to the show. We pay that much for popcorn because we agree to pay that much.

From the theater owners’ side of things, concession sales are where they make the lion’s share of their profits. Attendance is down across the board and they don’t really charge enough for tickets to cover all their costs. It’s just business.

I will, however, confess here to my life of crimes. There’s a dollar store in the same shopping center as the theater we usually go to. I have, on occasion, picked up a bottle of soda and a candy bar and stuffed them in my coat before going in to see the film. Alert the authorities.


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The bar down the street charges $7 for a pint of Guinness draft, I can go to the Kroger Super Store and buy a 4 pack of 16oz Guinness draft for $6.99. The bar does not allow anyone to bring their own beers. I want a lawyer, My right are being violated!

Don’t give anyone ideas now!

hawkeye54 on March 6, 2012 at 11:30 AM

The bar down the street charges $7 for a pint of Guinness draft, I can go to the Kroger Super Store and buy a 4 pack of 16oz Guinness draft for $6.99. The bar does not allow anyone to bring their own beers. I want a lawyer, My right are being violated!

Wallythedog on March 6, 2012 at 11:31 AM

moochy on March 6, 2012 at 10:41 AM

Hollow leg & fake cath bag FTW!

29Victor on March 6, 2012 at 11:31 AM

From the theater owners’ side of things, concession sales are where they make the lion’s share of their profits. Attendance is down across the board and they don’t really charge enough for tickets to cover all their costs. It’s just business.

This is the money quote because most don’t know or realize that movies are a lost leader for theaters and yes they only really make their money from concessions. If they raised their ticket prices to $20 apiece then they would be able to lower their concession prices but Hollywood won’t allow it.

JeffinSac on March 6, 2012 at 11:33 AM

It’d be helpful if the owners could convince Hollywood to lower the costs they demand from the theaters for showing its films.

hawkeye54 on March 6, 2012 at 11:29 AM

Yep. I have a friend who manages a theater. The percentage that the movie companies get of each ticket is outrageous. And yet the Hollywood libs are always lecturing us on how greedy we are.

But, in the great American tradition the theaters around here are making up for the high prices with fully reclining Lay-z-boy chairs and in theater dining and such.

29Victor on March 6, 2012 at 11:34 AM

That’s fine, I mean there’s nothing in the Constitution that could force me to buy their tickets or overpriced popcorn … is there?

Over50 on March 6, 2012 at 11:25 AM

Are you trying to suggest that the next individual mandate from Obama is that we go to the movies and buy theater popcorn to stimulate the economy? Well, some of Obama’s strongest supporters are in Hollywood. I guess anything is possible.

Gladtobehere on March 6, 2012 at 11:35 AM

What a dolt. Will he sue gas stations next? Colleges and universities? If enough people are buying snacks at that price, it is the going price. No one dragged him into the theater and put a gun to his head forcing him to buy 20 lbs of Hershey bar. And what the heck is a security technician anyway? The new word for security guard?

stop2think on March 6, 2012 at 11:38 AM

I express my opinion about the price of movie theater popcorn by not purchasing it. Which is a lot easier when you avoid stupid movie theaters altogether.

Jim Treacher on March 6, 2012 at 11:41 AM

I express my opinion about the price of movie theater popcorn by not purchasing it. Which is a lot easier when you avoid stupid movie theaters altogether.

Jim Treacher on March 6, 2012 at 11:41 AM

I figure the best way to do this is to get it for a dollar from the Redbox and watch it at home. That has to be the lowest margin for the production companies – right?

CycloneCDB on March 6, 2012 at 11:48 AM

I’ve always been curious as to why people selling plywood before a hurricane strikes at inflated prices is price gouging, yet movie theaters selling a soft drink for 5 or 6 bucks that you can get for a buck and half elsewhere isn’t.

Maybe because protecting your home and family from a hurricane are little more important than being able to stuff your face on cheap theater snacks and sodas?

I haven’t gotten my customary theater soda since the Starship Troopers Large Coke Bladderbust of ’97…(Never hold it so long that your kidneys hurt…Ouch.)

Battlecruiser-operational on March 6, 2012 at 11:54 AM

Really? It’s Super Tuesday, and we get a story about a guy suing movie theaters over popcorn prices?

Probably just a Fluke.

DanaLynn on March 6, 2012 at 12:00 PM

Who cares. I have not been to a movie theater in 20 years. I refuse to support the liberal elites in Hollywood by paying for their mediocre, mass-produced, over-hyped, intellectually depressing product. I do not have any problem with anyone watching their crap for free, though – it is your life and if you choose to waste some of it, then go ahead. My question is, why would any conservative ever voluntarily and willingly put money in the pockets of liberal Hollywood slime?

AttaBoyLuther on March 6, 2012 at 12:02 PM

You could go to RedState – they like to whine a lot over there.

ignatzk on March 6, 2012 at 12:04 PM

Studios take 90/95% of ticket prices for recently-released movies they know will put butts in the seats, and once everyone’s seen it, they agree to only take maybe 60 or 65% of the ticket prices. The only way to even keep your local movie theater open is to buy their concessions because $1 for 2 hours of movie isn’t going to pay the rent.

What really kills me, and why I haven’t been to a game in a while, is concession prices at baseball games. They don’t have to pay any piper, there’s no movie studio taking all of the profits, they just plain don’t give a crap about somebody who wants to spend less than $50 bucks to go see their favorite team play.

I lived in Maryland for a little while, and went to see a Washington Nationals game, just for yuks. At this point, they weren’t even the scrappy underdogs you want to root for, they just plain stunk.

But a 20 oz Diet Coke would still run you 5.50 a bottle (at least.) Sitting down and watching baseball enjoying my favorite beverage is a pleasurable experience if I’m not being robbed blind. What incentive to I have to return to this baseball park to watch this crappy team play if I can’t even get a hot dog and a soda for under 8 bucks. Zip. So I never went back.

jimmy the notable on March 6, 2012 at 12:04 PM

I have, on occasion, picked up a bottle of soda and a candy bar and stuffed them in my coat before going in to see the film. Alert the authorities.

Is that all? When I was in college I used to stop at McDonald’s before going into the theater. Large overcoats work best for this so only try it in the winter. I think the statute of limitations is up on the smuggling, but I could be looking at jail time for eating at McDonald’s if Michelle finds out! :-)

tims472 on March 6, 2012 at 12:12 PM

Movie popcorn is a human right. With butter.

J.E. Dyer on March 6, 2012 at 12:23 PM

Find a drive-in and that way you can take all the snacks with you. You can also do other things at a drive-in that you can’t do at most theaters.

rjulio on March 6, 2012 at 12:33 PM

You can watch a movie without eating something. I know it sounds absolutely mad, but it’s possible. Although the local place by my house did not seem to care, people used to bring Subway sandwiches in from next door all the time and they never got in trouble for it.

Theaters these days are too expensive anyhow. Redbox is ok, but even they have been upping their prices lately.

BakerAllie on March 6, 2012 at 12:44 PM

I haven’t read all the comments and I don’t know exactly how much accuracy my comment has, but as I understand it, the theaters don’t make any money from ticket sales. They’re told what to charge by the movie studio/releasing agent and have to make their money from anything else they can sell outside of the ticket.

Sponge on March 6, 2012 at 1:00 PM

Once ObamaCare kicks in, expect the prices of junk food to go way higher everywhere due to a heatlh quality tax.

Egfrow on March 6, 2012 at 1:10 PM

Theaters these days are too expensive anyhow.

That’s how the wife and I feel. We haven’t been to the theater since we subscribed to satellite, and now Verizon FiOS. Only for a very few epics have I missed the big screen and theater sound. We’ve budgeted about $28/yr for PPV movies for each of the last 10 years. I have to tell ya, we’ve never come close to going over budget, let alone reaching our cap, due to the dearth of movies we find worth spending $5 to watch.

hawkeye54 on March 6, 2012 at 1:16 PM

I haven’t paid for snacks in the theatre in over 6 years. I buy elsewhere and bring them in. I’ll continue to do so until the TSA is tasked with making my wife breast feed my kids infront of them to prove those things are real and not soda sacks we’re trying to sneak in.

StompUDead on March 6, 2012 at 1:44 PM

I think we should round anyone up with this inherent sense of entitlement and force them to go homeless sans welfare for a month.

Maybe Obama can give us all federally subsidized popcorn dispersal at movie theaters. Makes as much practical and constitutional sense as a mandate for contraception provision.

Kriggly on March 6, 2012 at 1:45 PM

This is the money quote because most don’t know or realize that movies are a lost leader for theaters and yes they only really make their money from concessions. If they raised their ticket prices to $20 apiece then they would be able to lower their concession prices but Hollywood won’t allow it.

It’s not just Hollywood. This is an example of what businesses everywhere do, having a multitiered charging scheme. Those who want the total movie experience and can pay? They pay more. Those who are cheap, poor, watching their weight, or outraged by the prices? They pay less. The concessions subsidize us cheapskates, in effect. It’s similar to sales. Some people get outraged that a department store can mark a piece of clothing down 70%, but that’s just stuff they need to get rid of at a loss and/or attracts buyers who’ll buy stuff they make money on. Those who just want the latest fashion at a time of their choosing? They pay a higher price, just like the popcorn and soda folks. If you want price controls, this isn’t the country for you….

calbear on March 6, 2012 at 1:54 PM

I’ll buy a large soda but always bring snacks in my purse–if we choose to eat. Never will we pay for the overpriced candy and the popcorn is way too salty, anyway.

When the kids are around for the few English language children’s movies, then I’ll splurge so they’ll get a “real movie experience”. But, that’s probably 1-2 movies a year so it doesn’t pain the pocketbook too much and the kids are so happy that it’s worth it.

Suing? Nope don’t agree. No one forces you buy anything at the theater.

Renwaa on March 6, 2012 at 2:15 PM

My buddy looks like a suicide bomber he stuffs so much candy in his coat before heading to the theater.

EddieC on March 6, 2012 at 2:19 PM

I haven’t been to a moive theater in over 25yrs. It’s just not very interesting to me.

Dollayo on March 6, 2012 at 2:29 PM

What if Exxon bought out AMC Theaters? Would the lawsuit be successful when the Holder Justice Dept took up the case and accused the new peanut oil giant of price gouging?

vamoose on March 6, 2012 at 2:38 PM

My buddy looks like a suicide bomber he stuffs so much candy in his coat before heading to the theater.

EddieC on March 6, 2012 at 2:19 PM

If you advertise that, the TSA will set up units inside theaters to search everyone.

Gladtobehere on March 6, 2012 at 2:41 PM

If this case gets in front of the right judge, it won’t be dismissed.

about two years ago I remember telling my mother that someone would do this.

The theaters make it worse by saying you can’t bring in your own food and then gouge you.

I sometimes wonder why theaters don’t just make financial deals with food places around their theater.

This would work with theaters in malls/food court.

fatlibertarianinokc on March 6, 2012 at 2:56 PM

If we’re going to get indignant about movie theater practices, how about this one: cranking up the volume to deafen young children.

The last time we took our five-year-old to the theater was last summer. The trailers were so loud that she was in tears before they were over, even though Mommy was holding her hands over her ears, and Daddy had made four trips to the staff office begging them to turn it down (they finally did, some).

We haven’t been back to the movies since. Silly us, it never occurred to us to sue anyone.

Seriously, what is it with the modern determination to deafen all our kids? We can’t attend a neighborhood block party, take the girl clothes shopping, or to the movies without worrying about permanent hearing damage.

Chuckles3 on March 6, 2012 at 3:42 PM

Just glad I live in Texas and can go see a movie at the Alamo Drafthouse. Good reasonably priced food AND BEER.

ModerateMan on March 6, 2012 at 4:11 PM

I just bring in a bagful of unpopped corn kernels and a battery powered microwave and pop them myself at my seat.

Only works thanks to the extreme volume during the previews.

profitsbeard on March 6, 2012 at 5:16 PM

I hear a new government mandate coming. Free contraception, free abortions, free popcorn at the movies….it’s only fair.

goflyers on March 6, 2012 at 6:01 PM

If you advertise that, the TSA will set up units inside theaters to search everyone.

Gladtobehere on March 6, 2012 at 2:41 PM

Patinee showings.

Shy Guy on March 6, 2012 at 10:41 PM

We don’t go to the movies often, but when we do, we stop and get movie candy and bottled drinks at the grocery store. Women carry large bags these days and it’s no problem to put them in my purse.

Since stores now sell candy specifically aimed at the movies, I’m sure we’re not the only ones.

When I was a kid, we were pretty poor and my mom would send all five of us to the movies with a brown lunch bag filled with popcorn and some candy. We never had a problem getting into the theater. Of course in those days, the theater was 2 blocks away, only had 2 screens, and we walked there.

Common Sense on March 7, 2012 at 12:17 AM

The way to play this is to try to get yourself removed from the theatre because you brought your own food. The theatre has a right to ban outside food. However, if the primary reason for such a ban is to sustain a monopoly (as opposed to keeping the theatre clean, which it’s clearly not), the person denied service might have a case.

shuzilla on March 7, 2012 at 10:36 AM

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