‘Batman’ AMC Surge Pricing Postmortem: Exhibitor Not The First Major To Hike Ticket Prices On A Superhero Pic; Making Sense Of The Madness

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EXCLUSIVE: In the wake of AMC CEO Adam Aron’s announcement during a recent earnings call that he’s raised ticket prices specifically on The Batman, there are some studio executives and producers who are miffed.

It’s an audacious move at a time when moviegoing is desperate for a rebound following a financially disastrous pandemic, which saw circuits shutter for arguably a year.

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However, there are an array of opinions on this topic, ranging from Aron’s move being a “nothing burger” to filmmakers and producers thinking that a new caste system of movie classification is on the horizon, i.e. if you’re not the director of a Marvel Cinematic Universe or DC title, well then you’re Ed Wood, and there’s no reason for the greater populous to buy a ticket to your movie.

Let’s all calm down.

‘The Batman’ $134M Opening Reps Warner Bros’ Biggest During Pandemic Era, Best Debut For Matt Reeves –

. - Credit: Sony
. - Credit: Sony

Sony

First of all, AMC’s price surge (that’s what it is, I’m told — not variable, no dynamic) on The Batman is nothing new. In fact, Regal and Cinemark already hiked prices during Spider-Man: No Way Home’s opening weekend (see the chart from Box Office Analytics firm EntTellgence below), and they did so again for The Batman. Note, the major studios have no input or sway in regards to what exhibitors charge ticket-price wise for movies.

And if you’re pondering, ‘Well, duh, high ticket prices kept people from seeing Batman this weekend’, the answer is absolutely ‘No’.

The Batman with $128M is the second best opening of the pandemic behind Spider-Man: No Way Home‘s $260M (that movie already the 3rd highest ever at the domestic B.O. is heading toward an $800M U.S./Canada take).

EntTelligence reports that 20 million people stateside saw Spider-Man: No Way Home during weekend one versus 9.5M for The Batman. The disparity in box office openings boils down two different types of IP and their demand, not pricing: One is a reboot of a popular dark superhero, and the other a carnival which is the crossroads of the Marvel Cinematic Multiverse. Batman is also 25 minutes longer than Spider-Man, which arguably means more showtimes than the near 3-hour Matt Reeves directed The Batman.

. - Credit: EntTelligence
. - Credit: EntTelligence

EntTelligence

As you can see, No. 2 theater circuit Regal was charging $13.73 on average during Spider-Man‘s opening, above their average ticket price of $12.91. Cinemark was charging $11.19 on average for the Jon Watts-directed title vs. $10.63 while AMC that weekend charged an average of $13.92 to a regular price ticket of $13.21. This weekend for Batman, AMC’s average ticket price was $14.50 (vs. $13.22 regular ticket price), Regal’s was $13.44 (vs. $12.67) and Cinemark’s $11.25 (vs. $10.25).

Now, breaking this down:

. - Credit: AP
. - Credit: AP

AP

–We’re in an inflation economy. And I can think of more heinous surcharges going on right now, i.e. four sandwiches at Jersey Mike’s totaling $70, filling your gas tank to north of $60, and the continued ala carte surcharges which the major airlines wield in luggage and seat assignments. A dollar extra at the theater for a popular movie that was projected to make $100M, isn’t a venial sin, in fact it’s common sense given the times that we’re in and the pandemic that these exhibitors have weathered. Many are upside down and in the red, and AMC and others’ decision to spike prices slightly (even for eight days which is the No. 1 circuit’s situation here) is arguably more Adam Smith-invisible-hand economics than it is price gouging.

–AMC implemented this price surge very early on for Batman. Imax’s first day of screenings in 350 sites last Tuesday sold out weeks ago. Presales heading into the weekend were great at $50M spread across the weekend and not front-loaded. Sticker shock? I don’t think so. Distribution sources tell me that when it comes to non-frequent moviegoers losing their hair at the movies, it’s with the cost of concessions, not ticket prices. Anecdotally speaking, I can tell you that the same group of hot dogs, popcorn, soda and pizza for a party of 3 during a preview of Venom in 2018 cost me $75 at AMC Burbank, easily $20 more than what Regal was charging at their Valencia, CA stadium in my neighborhood.

–The whole notion that exhibitors don’t want to approach a situation where two moviegoers sitting next to each other were charged two different ticket prices, well, that’s already happened with Spider-Man and Batman. This superhero surcharge is clearly an attempt to fill any loss of cash from exhibitors’ monthly subscription programs.

‘Admission’ - Credit: Focus Features/Everett Collection
‘Admission’ - Credit: Focus Features/Everett Collection

Focus Features/Everett Collection

–To those film content creators concerned that their movies on the marquee aren’t nearly as prized as a superhero movie, here are some things to consider. Would you like traffic at your indie movie, or not? A lower price could possibly create demand (in same breath, I’m told a $1 isn’t known to make a difference regarding more or less traffic). Should we pay premium prices for a small indie film? I will say that the most I ever spent to see a movie, was for a specialty title, that being Focus Features’ Tina Fey-Paul Rudd 2013 comedy Admission at the iPic Pasadena. I shelled out $27, enormous by today and then standards. As much as I enjoyed the movie, it didn’t deliver the same experience as say Antman in Imax. I’d argue the ticket price was too pricey for that type of movie. But what I was paying for was the cushy recliner seat, free popcorn, a blanket (which I wasn’t allowed to take home), and what was then this whole new luxe dine-in experience.

However, the price hike is a touchy subject for studio execs and filmmakers, but just like studios have squeezed windows, gone theatrical day-and-date, or cut the wide release pipeline on their own power, exhibitors need to make money someplace, and that being for the weekend’s most highly valued commodity. If it eases filmmakers’ concerns, there’s some much tiered pricing going on in any given day at a major Metropolitan multiplex between dayparts and luxe seating that we’re well beyond the days when it’s one static price for an evening show for any one movie.

AMC Theaters CEO Adam Aron - Credit: AP
AMC Theaters CEO Adam Aron - Credit: AP

AP

–“Who the heck announces they’re raising ticket prices!?” yelled one distribution boss at me. Well, Aron does. Sure, not the best form of publicity as Regal and Cinemark have kept quiet about raising their prices, but it’s no secret that AMC is mired in debt, and the after-effect of his announcement saw an increase in post-market in the circuit’s share price, +4% on March 1, and +1.2% the following day. Aron serves his shareholders. When reached earlier this week on the topic, AMC didn’t provide any further comment on the whole topic of Batman price upticks.

Lightyear - Credit: Disney
Lightyear - Credit: Disney

Disney

–Still some distribution sources argue that Aron’s announcement of price surging “sends a dreadful message to the consumer right now.” That there’s no give-and-take for the consumer. I.E. if prices are going up on Batman, it only stands to reason to drop prices on rival titles. Will the major circuits rise their tickets on an upcoming popular family title? That’s one area where the whole ticket price surge subject gets slippery.

So Batman cost around $1 more among the major circuits. Did it curb business? Hard to argue that it did given that people literally made an appointment to see the movie far in advance. Close to 60% of Batman‘s moviegoers bought their tickets before opening day per Comscore’s PostTrak, while 76% of them bought them online (vs. at the theater). We hear that AMC repped close to a third of the $100.3M Batman grosses in its first two days, Regal 20% of that number and Cinemark 15%.

Is there bound to be more movie ticket price increases for highly-anticipated $100M-plus grossing movies moving forward? I think we can easily say, “Yeah,” given that Batman was the second in an inflation-steeped economy.

But still, price increases didn’t stop anyone from seeing Spider-Man: No Way Home or The Batman.

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