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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 21, 2012 10:09AM

Funny how no price too high for entertainment ( sports, movies, electronics, politicians etc.)  but listen to the howls when it comes time to pay our TEACHERS, POLICE & FIREMEN and especially our S O L D I E R S.


Time to examine our priorities as a nation.

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!

Mar 21, 2012 2:05AM

No basis for a lawsuit (or a "news" story).  Some people want to sue everyone they disagree with, and I am so tired of their complaining. 


Is this clown also going to sue 7-11 because their prices are so much higher than Wal Mart?


Besides, how long is the typical movie, anyway?  Are you telling me people can't do without snacks for a couple of hours at a time?


Sorry for the rant, but this guy seriously needs to get a life.

Mar 20, 2012 10:42PM
strictly enforce cell phones bans in theaters. i don't pay money to hear other people's mindless conversations...or see the light from their texting. 
Mar 21, 2012 8:03AM
why not sue sports stadiums also ,a beer at a football game is way too much ,a major rip-off
Mar 21, 2012 1:46AM
Do a little research and add up how much it would cost to open and run a modern movie theater. Let alone make a profit. You'll find yourself surprised that they even exist. 
My friend was a manager at a big chain theater. One day I asked why they weren't kicking out people we saw hitting multiple shows, after only paying for one. 
He said, "Because they all bought popcorn and drinks. We don't make jack on a movie ticket. So if they're gonna buy concessions I don't care what they do."
Mar 21, 2012 7:16AM

And now we know why I no longer attend these movies and have not since about 1990. Lets work on fuel and auto pricing now!!!!!!!!

 As long as we are willing to pay, the cost will remain high. STOP spending and the cost will fall!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Mar 21, 2012 11:10AM

Let's see, I'm an old geezer and when I was a kid could get into the movies for 25 cents,  I believe. Back then my dad made about $300 a month, a pretty good wage. Today, movies cost roughly 50 times more...but are people earning 50 times more, or around $15,000 a month? I think not.


Just goes to show you how ridiculously twisted and overinflated things are in the film industry..


I might add that today's actors who charge $10-plus million a picture aren't nearly as talented as those of yesteryear. No comparison. Just a bunch of pretty faces who are way over-indulged.

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 21, 2012 1:45AM
Their profit margin comes from the concessions! Is that the publics fault! No! They are paying too much for the actors. They pay too much to make the movies! Try this, stop paying the actors so much money. If they think that they are soooooo important that the movie can't be made without them, then prove them wrong and make the movie without them! There are plenty people that are nice looking and can act! Kill the monopolies that these actors hold!
Mar 20, 2012 7:52PM
Take out the overpriced candy along w/ everybodys  @$#%  cell phone.
Mar 21, 2012 11:13AM
If the theatre only makes money off the concessions, why not charge me once to go in and then let me watch as many movies as I want. The longer I'm there the more crap I will buy.  They could also make the food super cheap. People would buy more of it.  The movie business model is failing. They need to copy Starbuck (let them linger all day) or McDonalds (order 8 things off the dollar menu and it's still $8).
Mar 21, 2012 1:31PM

What I object to is paying $8-10 for a ticket and having to sit thru commercials. The theaters make money off of companies that pay to advertise before movies. I stopped going to the theater when it cots me $10.00 for a small popcorn and a small soda and another $10.00 for the ticket to see the movie. I have a really BIG problem with being ripped off. I loved going to the movies but the greed you see from the theater owners is outragous and something should be done about it.


Unfortunately the only way you can hurt the pockets of the owners is just by not going to the movies. Or if you decide to go just do not buy anything to snack on.

Mar 21, 2012 10:40AM
Eat something before you go to the movie and, if you like, pick up some candy at your local store and bring it with you.

About a year ago my wife wanted....REALLY wanted...a cup of coffee at the theater. It was $4.75. It had been a very long time since I had purchased anything to eat/drink at a theater and that was, in fact, the LAST time I purchased anything. I would rather go without than feel like I've been robbed.

As is often this case, this comes down to exercising a measure of self control or self discipline, simply refusing to cave in to what many feel is the outrageous overpricing of snacks. If more and more folks didn't buy, the pricing would come down. If it worked (and it did) with gasoline prices (and that is a necessity for most people), it would work with snacks.

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 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 21, 2012 10:50AM

Lovely Brazil123: must you make a derogatory comment about Americans? 

You make a point but too bad you had to ruin it with a sweeping, negative generalization.

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 11:03PM
Dinner and a movie?  Eat before or after?
Mar 20, 2012 11:33PM

Ah, such unreasonable customers wanting a decent product at an affordable price.  Cinsidering most theatres I know are restraunts that happen to show films, you gotta wonder how they stay in business.  (chicken fingers for 4 with drinks equals 60 bucks at the theatre and is half price down the mall at the food court, and seriously, chinken fingers at the movies?)


I used to sneak food in, then they started the no outside bag policy, now I agree, if you can't not eat for two hours, you are the reason for the obestiy problem in America today.

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