People complain that $50 is too steep of a price to bring a family of four to the movies. Yet this week theaters are seeing how many fans will pay $50 per person for a package that includes admission to the new Brad Pitt film, “World War Z,” two days before the worldwide release.
The special “World War Z” Mega Ticket includes a single 3-D admission to the movie on June 19, two days before the official June 21 release, as well as a pair of collector’s 3-D glasses, a movie poster, an HD copy of the film when it becomes available, and a small popcorn. (Thirsty? Sorry, you have to buy your own beverage.) Five theaters around the country are participating, in Los Angeles, San Diego, Houston, Atlanta, and Philadelphia.
The pricing strategy may be a sign that the usual movie pricing system, in which filmgoers pay the same flat price at theaters no matter what they’re seeing or when, could be on its way out. Last week, Steven Spielberg and George Lucas predicted the disappearance of flat pricing for movie tickets in the future. The filmmakers anticipate that the current system will be replaced by a tiered pricing strategy, in which special-effects-laden blockbusters cost $25 while low-budget dramas might run $7.
In some ways, we’re already seeing cracks in the flat-price per movie structure. Theaters have been charging extra for IMAX and 3-D screenings for years, of course, which has pushed average film prices skyward. Services such as MoviePass aim to disrupt movie theater pricing by allowing members to see one movie per day for a flat monthly fee.
Some filmgoers have long wished for a variable pricing system at theaters, in which tickets might cost $5 for a frivolous movie—one you’d otherwise only watch on an airplane, or via Redbox. Studios and theaters would be far more likely to embrace such a pricing scenario if consumers simultaneously accepted the concept of a hot movie costing $25 or $50 per ticket.
The Mega Ticket experiment also ties into the trend of theaters pushing to sell tickets far in advance and build hype via early screenings. Tickets to this summer’s new Superman movie were being sold in advance via Walmart for screenings one day before the general release. Fans have also shown some willingness to pay a premium to see films as soon as possible. Last year, some $25 million worth of “Dark Knight Rises” tickets were sold before the movie even hit theaters, and scalpers were asking for over $100 per ticket to certain midnight showings. Given such consumer behavior, it seems inevitable that theaters and movie studios would try to get in on the action.
So, do you get your money’s worth with the “World War Z” Mega Ticket? The movie’s official website claims that buyers get “Over $75 In Value.” But Entertainment Weekly did its own math, and after adding up everything that’s included in the package concluded that the basics (admission, popcorn, eventual HD download) would otherwise cost about $39. That means that fans are essentially paying around $11 for the poster, glasses, and bragging rights about seeing the movie two days ahead of the masses.
As of midday on Wednesday, $50 tickets were still available at Fandango for that night’s showings—in all participating locations.