Smart SpendingSmart Spending

The great movie food racket

A Michigan moviegoer's lawsuit over the high cost of food and drinks at theater concessions has put a spotlight on a favorite consumer gripe.

By Karen Datko Mar 20, 2012 5:55PM

Is a Michigan man a hero to moviegoers everywhere since he sued an AMC theater over the high cost of movie concession snacks?


Joshua Thompson of Livonia -- who paid $8 total for a box of Goobers and a Coke at his local AMC -- filed the lawsuit because "he got tired of being taken advantage of," his attorney said.


The Detroit Free Press reports:

The suit accused AMC theaters of violating the Michigan Consumer Protection Act by charging grossly excessive prices for snacks.
The suit seeks refunds for customers who were overcharged, a civil penalty against the theater chain and any other relief Judge Kathleen Macdonald might grant.

Two experts interviewed by the Freep predicted the suit wouldn't stand up in court for legal reasons that aren't related to the snack markup. But the much-publicized lawsuit has focused attention on a favorite consumer gripe.


The Hollywood Reporter added to the debate:

Exactly how much do movie theaters make on concessions? According to one Morningstar equity analyst, of every dollar spent on candy and soda in movie theaters, 85% is pure profit. Another review of the business of selling popcorn reveals that $30 worth of raw popcorn is worth as much as $3,000 to movie theaters.

(Post continues below.)

Theater owners have said the concession prices are justified because they make so little from ticket sales. From a post we wrote after AMC banned outside snacks in 2009:

"You are not really paying for the movie when you buy a ticket. A certain percentage goes to the studio, and then we have to pay for the double-high ceilings, the digital equipment," Screenland theaters owner Butch Rigby told The Star. "Yes, it is more expensive to buy a candy bar in a movie theater, but you are paying for the experience. We do most of our profits, if not all, on concessions. You wouldn't take an entree into a restaurant."

Movie theaters have the right to set the price of snacks. Does that mean we have to pay those outrageous prices?


We have some suggestions:

  • Bring your own, which means sneaking since many of the big theater chains have banned outside snacks. Lawsuit plaintiff Thompson, who is in his 20s, used to bring food with him until AMC posted a sign about the ban. It's up to your conscience whether this is frugal, cheap or even unethical.  
  • Don't buy the snacks. How difficult is this to do? If you value your health, you'll avoid buttered movie popcorn and a lot of the other unhealthy stuff they sell.
  • Offset the cost of snacks with a discounted or free movie. Join the theater loyalty club or take advantage of other special offers, advises Kelli B. Grant in a post on SmartMoney.  
  • Stay home. And apparently many do. Movie attendance hit a 16-year low in 2011, with only 1.28 billion tickets sold.  
  • Suck it up and pay the price. We suspect many people will continue to buy the high-priced snacks and complain all the way to their seats.

Why? Brad Tuttle at Time offers one possible explanation:

So, um, is it smart to ask customers to pay $8 for something that costs less than $3 a short walk away? I suppose it is, so long as your customers are stupid enough to agree to pay up.

More on MSN Money:

Mar 20, 2012 10:03PM
I don't know anybody that buys theater snacks. Let's face it, it's pretty sad if you can't manage to sit through a two-hour movie without eating snacks. And the snacks are unhealthy garbage, anyway. The other side of the coin, however, is that I would think that theaters would make more money off of snack bar food if they made the prices more reasonable, because they would sell a lot more.
Mar 20, 2012 9:41PM

Grossly overpaid actors.  Overpriced tickets.  Grossly overpriced concessions.  I have no problem with sneaking in food/drink (usually healthy stuff) and sneaking into a double feature that "lines up" right time-wise. 


Mar 20, 2012 9:30PM
How about stopping at Burger King before the movie and knocking down a couple of junior Whoppers for a few bucks. That should kill the snack urge.
Mar 20, 2012 9:28PM

Why don't theaters make more money on the films themselves? Because, like many professional athletes, today's under talented actors/actresses are being paid WAY too much for their so-called "talents."


I believe today's' thespians don't hold a candle to the likes of  Cagney, Bogart, George C. Scott, Kirk Douglas and Burr Lancaster of the '40s, '50s and '60s.



Mar 20, 2012 8:52PM
just dont' buy the consession snacks, problem solved. Right?  Besides what you pay for movie theather food is enough for two more tickets prices for future releases. 
Mar 20, 2012 8:51PM
this is when its great to be a woman....bring snacks in your purse! we pay enough for entertainment as it is.
Mar 20, 2012 7:56PM
To have the writer suggest that you sneak items into a movie theater is low and unethical.  People want the 100,000$ projectors to run like clock work, they want the 15,000$ sound system to be perfect, they want the seats to be comfortable and free of debris.  They want all the toilet paper stocked and bathrooms clean, yet they dont want to pay the cost of it.  Theaters make no money off tickets.  They want staff members that are courteous and high class, but they dont want to pay for it. How is the theater supposed to pay for all of this when you are suggesting that people bring their own snacks in? Either buy the snacks or dont, but to break the rules of the establishment because you dont like them is unacceptable.
Mar 20, 2012 7:52PM
Take out the overpriced candy along w/ everybodys  @$#%  cell phone.
Mar 20, 2012 7:19PM
This guy should have his manhood license revoked.  What a weenie!  Suing over the price of his candy?  And too dumb to fill up his pockets beforehand.   Here's a hint buddy.  Next time... JUST DON'T BUY IT!  No wonder the legal system is a joke. 
Mar 20, 2012 7:16PM

I seldom go to the movies any more, but when I do, I almost never buy snacks.  For those kinds of prices, I expect endless refills.  Also, the trash needs to throw itself away!

Seriously, if movie theater owners/managers would charge more reasonable snack prices, more people would attend movies again.  More attendees, more snacks sold, more profit for the owners.  Win-win-win!

Please help us to maintain a healthy and vibrant community by reporting any illegal or inappropriate behavior. If you believe a message violates theCode of Conductplease use this form to notify the moderators. They will investigate your report and take appropriate action. If necessary, they report all illegal activity to the proper authorities.
100 character limit
Are you sure you want to delete this comment?


Copyright © 2014 Microsoft. All rights reserved.

Fundamental company data and historical chart data provided by Morningstar Inc. Real-time index quotes and delayed quotes supplied by Morningstar Inc. Quotes delayed by up to 15 minutes, except where indicated otherwise. Fund summary, fund performance and dividend data provided by Morningstar Inc. Analyst recommendations provided by Zacks Investment Research. StockScouter data provided by Verus Analytics. IPO data provided by Hoover's Inc. Index membership data provided by Morningstar Inc.


Smart Spending brings you the best money-saving tips from MSN Money and the rest of the Web. Join the conversation on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.