These days, going to the movies can feel a lot like going to the airport. Theaters offer all kinds of ”premium” upgrades — 3-D, IMAX, reserved seating — and all of them send ticket prices soaring. Moviegoers in urban areas can regularly spend up to $20 for a single ticket. But Paramount wants to know if they’d spend even more. Last week, the studio and Regal Cinemas announced a $50 ”Mega Ticket” for World War Z, including early admission to the zombie film starring Brad Pitt, plus a whole grab bag of extras (more on that later).
At this rate, will ticket buyers soon pay $100? George Lucas thinks so. While speaking at a June 12 panel at the University of Southern California that included Steven Spielberg, the Star Wars director predicted that Hollywood’s current obsession with glossy blockbusters over art-house fare could cause an industry ”implosion.” ”There’s eventually going to be a big meltdown,” Lucas said. ”You’re going to end up with fewer theaters…. Going to the movies will cost 50 bucks or 100 or 150 bucks, like what Broadway costs today, or a football game.”
Worse, Spielberg argued that most studios aren’t interested in smaller, more personal projects anymore. He claimed Lincoln was ”this close” to ending up on HBO instead of in theaters. But Spielberg laid out a different vision for the future of movie-theater finances: tiered ticket pricing. He believes that in the near future, highly anticipated tentpoles will cost substantially more than small indies and dramas. It’s akin to airlines charging more for a sought-after flight over the holidays — the higher the up-front demand, the higher the price. As Spielberg put it, ”You’re gonna have to pay $25 for the next Iron Man, [but] you’re probably only going to have to pay $7 to see Lincoln.”
Just a few days later the directors seemed downright prophetic, with the announcement of the $50 World War Z Mega Ticket. Sold in Atlanta, L.A., Philadelphia, Houston, and San Diego, the experimental ticket not only gave buyers access to an early screening on June 19 — two days before its nationwide release — but also included a digital copy of the movie (available upon its home-market release), 3-D glasses, a World War Z poster, and a small popcorn. (But sadly, no soda.)
”This isn’t us trying to sell an individual ticket for 50 bucks,” says Ken Thewes, Regal’s chief marketing officer. ”The objective is trying to bring more value to the moviegoing experience for the consumer.” While Thewes admits that not every filmgoer may consider the Mega Ticket a bargain, he believes it does appeal to die-hard fans. ”We see a value in being the first to see the movie,” he says. ”[And] there’s a number of people who know they’re probably going to want to own it [digitally], so we’re trying to make it easy for them.”
For Paramount, the big draw is the opportunity to presell digital copies of a film while it’s still in theaters — and fans are at their peak level of enthusiasm. ”Home-video tracking goes down over time,” explains Paramount president of domestic marketing and distribution Megan Colligan, who also oversees the studio’s home-video division. ”As you’re waiting for your movie to come out [on DVD and VOD], you’re actually watching the interest and excitement for the movie start to wane.” By getting movie buffs to exit — or in this case, enter — through the virtual gift shop, the studio aims to reverse the recent sharp decline in home-video revenues.