Movie theater popcorn named as one of America’s biggest ripoffs

posted by HowardBHaas on February 10, 2010 at 7:52 am

Right up there with “free” credit reports and the ever tempting hotel minibar sitsmovie theater popcorn as one of the nation’s biggest ripoffs.

A medium bag of popcorn costs just 60 cents to make but retails for $6, a whopping 900% markup. That’s enough to make “Avatar” fans turn blue.
Richard McKenzie, an economics professor at University of California-Irvine, says theater owners mark up the snack so much because they don’t make a profit elsewhere.

Comments (35)

Twistr54 on February 10, 2010 at 8:22 am

If more people said NO to their kids, it would force concession prices to come down .
Something to think about the next time you lay out 45.00 $ at the box office, then get dragged to the concession stand by your kids. Talk to them before you ever get to the theatre, explain to them, and tell them NO.
After it cost more to get a SMALL Coke, than it did to get in to see the movie, I quit theatre concessions. Stick a Coke in your pocket or purse,, candy at the gas station stuff moms purse with goodies from home…..Who can afford this over pricing? You try to do something fun for your family, but it puts you in the red for the rest of the month. Movie and no concessions, or simply, just no movie at all. I have worked in theatres and know how they run, it will hurt at first, but if they lower prices, I would buy again.

moviebuff82 on February 10, 2010 at 8:27 am

Currently the AMC in my town bans sneaking in food….they might have security people strip searching moviegoers before they enter the lobby.

JodarMovieFan on February 10, 2010 at 8:47 am

Popcorn? I’m not so sure. I’d guess Nachos. At the Regal, its $8 with drink. Consider the bag maybe no larger than the 40c or 50c bag you can get at the snack dispenser machine and the little cup of cheese. That is like a 800% markup or more.

Every bans outside food, you just have to be more smart as to where you hide the food in your jacket/pockets. I’ve taken chinese food in with the rice, egg rolls and meals, plus a bottled soda. IT IS possible. The more layered clothing helps, too..then again, you may look and smell like a trip around the world…. :D :D I’m going stir crazy being home with all this snow….make it stoppppp!

Ron Newman
Ron Newman on February 10, 2010 at 8:51 am

If I’m going to a chain movie theatre, I’ll buy my concessions next door at CVS for 1/5 the price. If I go to an independent, I buy the overpriced candy because I want to keep the place in business.

terrywade on February 10, 2010 at 10:20 am

I believe It is against the law in many cities to be searched at the door but ok for guns/weapons, cameras/video only. Just tell them If they want to search you call the police and get a warrant or give your admission money back. The candy/drink prices are way over the top. Just eat something before you get to the theatre as most big chain multiplex’s don’t have enough help in the concession counter you will miss the movie open just waiting in line after you waited at the boxoffice set up for 10 windows and they only have one open on a big weekend with a girl that can’t do credit cards correct! Many people just stay home and eat all the food they want without being searched and have the big screen look with a volume control you can adjust the Dolby Digital® Surround how you like it. A friend of mine just put in a big curved screen in his house with masking and he has free popcorn!

RichardCWolfe on February 10, 2010 at 10:33 am

As a theatre owner I can see both sides of the story here. I have a single screen small town 2nd run theatre. However, I’m also the highest grossing 2nd run theatre in the state, out grossing many 1st run theatres, and I do it on a $3.00 ticket price. Even with that being the case, I can’t come close to breaking even on ticket sales alone. Concession sales have to pay the remainder of the overhead costs, and then hopefully create enough profit to maintain this historic theatre in a safe, comfortable and attractive condition.

My highest price concession item is a large tub of popcorn which sells for $3.00. The local Carmike sells their small popcorn for $5.75.

I appreciate what Ron Newman said about independents, although I don’t believe many independents (at least in my area) sell their concessions for anything near what the big chains do.

I do not allow patrons to bring food or drink into the theatre from outside, although people do sneak some in. If caught we take it from them. If they refuse to give it up, I throw them out (that seldom happens). That may seem harsh, but they were warned as there is a sizable sign on the front door. It has been my experience that few people that sneak stuff in ever use the trash cans, but rather leave everything on the floor for us to clean up, even though they haven’t contributed anything toward the cost of such.

I realize that the movie going public does not understand the complexities of the movie theatre business, and I agree that the prices charged at chain theatres are simply redicules, but when it’s fairly easy to see how inexpensive we are when compared to the chains, I would think that we should be appreciated for what we do to make movie going affordable for all of our patrons.

We do not run ANY screen advertising, nor do we have any video games in the lobby, so we have no income stream from anything other than ticket sales and concessions.

Our average concession per capita sale is $2.00 added to a $3.00 ticket, means you’ve just spent $5.00 a person to enjoy a movie in a beautiful well maintained art deco theatre with a uniformed staff, an auditorium with beautiful drapes and house curtain, with state of the art Dolby and DTS stereo sound, and a large free parking lot directly behind the theatre as well.

The thought of people suggesting that you sneak food and beverages into our theatre and undermine the financial well being of this showplace is very disturbing to me. Other then Ron, that is exacting what the others here are suggesting.

Shame on you.

DonSolosan on February 10, 2010 at 11:01 am

Yes. Well done. Pull out the leg that’s supporting theatrical exhibition of movies. If we all start going to Terry Wade’s friend’s house, how long do you think the popcorn will be free?

I want to see movies in classic movie theaters (with snacks, thank you!).

Ret. AKC (NAC) CCC Bob Jensen, Manteno, Illinois
Ret. AKC (NAC) CCC Bob Jensen, Manteno, Illinois on February 10, 2010 at 11:07 am

Rick Wolfe

What’s the name and location of your theater? Sounds like a great place,I hope it’s close to me!

terrywade on February 10, 2010 at 12:54 pm

Rick at least your snack prices are a fare price to pay. I’d much rather go to a big screen movie theatre and see a big image with good sound and don’t mind having a small drink at the candy counter with cold ice at a good price. For the guy that brings in Chinese food into the Cinema the smell must have been something else. If theatres offered good food at a reasonable price people will dine in your cinema. Like we have a few pizza cinemas in the SF Bay Area and the crowd loves the snacks and does not bring in their own pizza, because the price is fare,they buy them at the theatre and the cold drinks to go with it. I think the small movie owner does not overcharge but the big chains do with lousy service to match!

JohnRice on February 10, 2010 at 3:56 pm

One of the nice things about single features is that you can just skip the $5-6 small drinks and small popcorns. Well at least I can! I have no objection at all to paying a premium price for concessions in a movie theater. I don’t expect 7-11 or McDonald’s prices and know that’s how the theatres make their profit and stay in business. However when prices get to the point of being highway robbery it’s time to boycott the concession stand and just get something to eat before or after the movie. Young people (yeah some older people too!) apparently feel differently and continue to walk away with giant tubs of popcorn and half gallon cups of Coke with nachos and hot dogs on the side so I guess the sky is the limit as far as how high prices will go.

RickWolfe it sounds like you run a first class operation and I’m talking much more than having fair concession prices. I don’t blame you at all for enforcing your no food brought in policy. I wish their was a theatre like yours near us!

Ron Carlson
Ron Carlson on February 10, 2010 at 4:04 pm

As a theater operator I can say that while the concessions may seem priced high and in many cases are, if theaters didn’t have concessions they would go under. While we do get a % of the box office gross the film distributors take the majority of that revenue. So the only way to make any money to pay our expenses is through concessions. People are quick to point out that tickets are high and so are the snacks. The film distributors dictate what you can charge for admissions price based on the theaters geographic location. Theater owners have some leeway in this area but not much. So in order to pay the rent, lights, wages, taxes, insurance, and many other expences we charge a lot for popcorn.

HowardBHaas on February 10, 2010 at 4:56 pm

I posted this item out of outrage at the “chain” prices. With THSA, I toured Rick Wolfe’s wonderful, indepedent (non-chain) theater. Charging $3 would be ok for even a small popcorn, in my opinion.

I will NOT pay $9 or $10 total for a small popcorn and a small soda- I skip the refreshments and eat a full meal elsewhere for that kind of dough. That means I usually get to enjoy popcorn & soda at the nonprofit historic arthouses.

movies10063 on February 10, 2010 at 6:22 pm

Hey last time i checked it cost over $100.00 to go to a ball game and about $20.00 to $30.00 for parking $10.00 beers and $8.00 hot dogs no one complaims about this though.
I do not agree with the high prices of refreshments at the theatre chains but that does not mean you should sneak in your own food. Mr. Wolfe runs a first class second run theatre with affordable prices but most people instead of supporting their local theatres ( not many left) have to see the movie the first day or weekend when it comes out and complain about high ticket prices what hippocrates 10.00 for a movie is still a entertainment value

movies10063 on February 10, 2010 at 6:22 pm

Hey last time i checked it cost over $100.00 to go to a ball game and about $20.00 to $30.00 for parking $10.00 beers and $8.00 hot dogs no one complaims about this though.
I do not agree with the high prices of refreshments at the theatre chains but that does not mean you should sneak in your own food. Mr. Wolfe runs a first class second run theatre with affordable prices but most people instead of supporting their local theatres ( not many left) have to see the movie the first day or weekend when it comes out and complain about high ticket prices what hippocrates 10.00 for a movie is still a entertainment value

KenLayton on February 10, 2010 at 7:44 pm

Don’t forget that here in Washington state we have a rather high minimum wage to pay employees.

JohnRice on February 10, 2010 at 8:16 pm

Yes people DO complain about the ever increasing cost of everything connected with sporting events and live concert events too…as indeed they should! A ripoff is a ripoff no matter who is doing the ripping off!

The $10 movie is rapidly going the way of the under $5 small popcorn, at least at the theatres in the San Francisco Bay Area where I live. Our local Regal multiplex is charging $11.50 for non matinee ($8.75) showings. Add $4 for 3-D and $5 for Imax. Combine that with Regal’s higher than average concession prices and it doesn’t seem like such an entertainment value to me…especially considering some of the crap Hollywood is putting out nowadays! Don’t even get me started on mediocre or worse film presentation, that marathon of pre show commercials masquerading as entertainment and audiences full of talking, texting idiots!

Agreed that people shouldn’t sneak food into theatres if that’s the policy (and of course at most locations it is!). Theatres just like every other business have a perfect right to make and enforce the policies of their business.

jce13 on February 10, 2010 at 9:32 pm

Something is wrong with a system that makes a theatre’s existence dependent on the sale of popcorn (and other concessions).

There are some small chains that still have reasonable admission and concession prices. Eastgate Cinemas (Albemarle, NC) and Carolina Mall Cinemas (Concord, NC) are first run houses with stadium seating. Matinees are $4.50; evenings are $6.50. A large popcorn is $4.00. I try to support these theatres and almost always purchase food there.

When I go to an AMC or Regal cinema in Charlotte, admission is $10, and a large popcorn is $7.50. I think about a year the AMC price was $6.75. I avoid concessions sat these sites, because they are absurd. How soon will a tub of popcorn cost $15.00?

Eric Friedmann
Eric Friedmann on February 11, 2010 at 6:11 am

I’ve been saying this for years and years now, and the general public is just starting to catch up on it???

I’ve also been sneaking in my own snacks and drinks for at least 20 years now, and if I’m hurting the business of the local amusement park-style, inconsiderate-patroned mulitplex – GOOD!!!

kencmcintyre on February 11, 2010 at 9:30 am

I think popcorn lost its appeal for me when they started using “butter flavoring” instead of real butter. I would not like to see the chemical formula for the butter substitute.

Scott Neff
Scott Neff on February 11, 2010 at 11:09 am

I’d like to say that perhaps if people STOPPED sneaking food in that perhaps prices would come down, however at this point I’m sure the big chains would just see it as increased profit and think they had done something right and wouldn’t change a thing.

However — if perhaps people stopped sneaking in food the prices wouldn’t go up too much more.

Eric Friedmann
Eric Friedmann on February 11, 2010 at 12:20 pm

Rick Wolfe, I wish I lived near your theater. I’d be more than happy to respect your wishes of not sneaking food into the theater to preserve your business.

As for the big multiplex chains, I have no problem sticking it to them whenever I can!

JodarMovieFan on February 11, 2010 at 3:14 pm

Rick, if you ran a theater near me with those prices, I would certainly buy concessions in theater. My (and many others here) anger and frustration is against the chain theaters for charging way too much for food. Regal here in the DC metro area, which is one of the dominating chains charges $12 for a single pizza and soda. Thats more than the movie, itself! I’ve paid it only because I was starving or had my elderly dad in tow, but more often than not, I won’t pay it and will continue to sneak in food if I can’t get a meal in before showtime.

cahammoaz on February 12, 2010 at 6:24 am

Rick Wolfe please call me at 928-565-1659 or 928-377-9338. for i would like to chat with you about your theater, and something i would like to do here in Arizona
Thank You
Chris Hammontree
Owner / VP-Operations

biograph68 on February 12, 2010 at 10:29 am

I know that popcorn has a big markup. But I also know that the ticket price and distribution structure of films is very unfavorable to the exhibitor. And, I like to support independent exhibitors. So when I see a film at their theater, I always make sure my family is adequately supplied by the concession stand. I won’t bring in my own stuff, even at the drive in. I know I could see a film cheaper, but I also go to a movie theater for a different experience than my living room.

quasimodo on February 12, 2010 at 7:33 pm

Forgive me for joining this thread as a johnny-come-lately, but as for you, Jodarmoviefan, I hope you never set foot in my theatre. After you’ve finished your gluttonous binge, having poisoned the atmosphere with the stink of your fast food and ruining the theatre experience for others, and having done so while enjoying the warmth of my auditorium, the comfort of my seats, and the cleanliness of my restrooms, I’d venture to guess I’d be cleaning up your mess as well.

RichardCWolfe on February 14, 2010 at 9:46 am

Allow me to ask you folks for your opinion on a pop corn based policy. Many chain owned first run theatres offer free refills on both pop corn and drinks. Often on the large size only as an incentive for the consumer to buy the more expensive size. I do not offer free refills for two reasons. First, since my prices are only 1/3 of what they charge, I can’t justify giving away that much pop corn or drink, and 2nd, on weekdays I only run one show per evening and therefore close the refreshment stand 15 minutes after the show begins. Therefore, once the patron has finished their original items and went out for a refill they would find the stand closed and not be able to get a refill anyway, and thus feel ripped off.

People have often ask me why I close the stand so quickly. It has been my experience over the past 40 years of operating this theatre that once the feature starts very few people ever come out to buy anything. Even on the weekends when there are continuous showings and the stand stays open throughout them, I have often taken register readings to see what the sales results are between shows and have found there seldom are enough to even pay the labor cost of the two people operating the stand.

My 2nd request for your comments is in regards to people asking for a FREE refill when they or their kids drop their pop corn or drinks on the floor in the auditorium. If we have in some way caused it to happen, yes I will give them a refill, but if they dropped it on their own due to no fault of ours, no, I do not give a refill. However, in the case of pop corn, if the patron comes out and says: We spilled our pop corn, do you have something that we can clean it up with? Then I give them a dust pan and brush and tell them when they bring it back we will refill there pop corn as a courtesy for cleaning up the mess.

I’m curious to get your opinions on these matters.

JSA on February 14, 2010 at 2:07 pm

My answer comes from the patron’s point of view, as opposed to an owner/operator.

But first, let me state that we (i.e. my family) don’t bring snacks, food or drinks from the outside. I’m not judging others, but I think it’s wrong to do so, period. It doesn’t hurt my wallet to buy popcorn and small soft drinks, for a family or 3 with the occasional friends or guests. Ok, enough on that.

First, from my experience, we rarely return to the concession stand sometime after the first half hour of the feature or so. Given that is a good movie, we’re already involved into the plot to the extent that we don’t think of leaving the auditorium. Those times that I have to leave halfway and beyond (i.e. small children need “attention”, or my bladder needs relief), there’s hardly anyone in the stands. So it may make sense to shut down the operation.

For the second question, it depends. Again, form our experience with young children on hand, if we make a mess, we try first to clean it up to the best we can and notify management regardless, or if it’s too messy we tell them, and usually someone comes in and cleans up. In either case, we end up getting a refill, even without asking.

Unfortunately, not everyone behaves in a civilized manner. Often rude patrons make a mess for no other reason than to make a mess, and demand a refill without any consideration to the theatre or the other patrons. In those cases, a polite kick out of the premises is appropriate.


JodarMovieFan on February 14, 2010 at 5:53 pm


You miss the point. Let me reiterate it for you and that is the CHAINS charge too much for their concessions. I’ve said I would gladly pay reasonable prices and most INDEPENDENTS here in the DC area do. Again, I get it. Exhibitors don’t make it on ticket prices and need the markup on concessions to make it. I get it.

As if I’m the only one in this thread to voice an opinion on and sneaking food into theaters, WHY do you think this is? Has your hearing gone due to the loudness of the DTS or Dolby Digital soundtrack in your theater?? Do you hear people complaining? I’m sure you are well aware of public polls and people who blog on this very site as to why they prefer watching movies at home and not in places like YOUR theater. You charge too much and assuming you run a theater of a national chain (AMC, Regal, etc), let me say it bluntly, you suck. I am (and the others on this thread against high concession prices) are the messengers, don’t get mad at us for refusing to pay your high prices and proceed with a solution of our own. At least you’ve got someone who actually GOES to your theater.

As for me sneaking in food into and “stinking up” your theater, its no different then what you serve as popcorn and topping, with that hydrogenated, bloat-inducing, weapons-grade of gas destruction glop you and other exhibitors pass on as ‘butter’ or ‘butter substitute.’ Just WHERE is your theater anyway?

You think you could stop people from sneaking in food? Go ahead, make my day. Good Luck and Good Night. Catch Me if You Can. The End. :D


As a fairly regular weekly movie going patron, your policy sounds fair. But then again, a family of four who just spent money on tickets and probably an equal amount on concessions would deserve a break wouldn’t they? Maybe you could offer a free refill on either popcorn or drink, with a purchase of the other (popcorn or drink). That way you still earn some money on the high profit items and the customer feels he’s getting a deal. On the other hand, I don’t know many who can consume an entire large tub of popcorn and large soda. If it works for you and your customers, then its a good policy.

JodarMovieFan on February 14, 2010 at 5:57 pm

Disclaimer: The previous post was not meant in anyway a personal attack on any ONE individual living or not. The reference to ‘you’ is meant in the collective sense of MANAGEMENT. It is this posters intent that no virtual harm was done to any blogger in the creation of the previous post.

jimpiscitelli on February 14, 2010 at 7:59 pm

Some movie theatres like Cinemark and AMC have combos. Like at my Cinemark a tub of popcorn and a large drink costs $10.50. If I go to a cheap theater (like the Picture Show at Bloomingdale Court) a tub of popcorn and a large drink costs $8.00. Last time I went to a Regal Theatre (the Lincolnshire) a large popcorn and large drink cost me $11.00.

cahammoaz on February 15, 2010 at 7:10 am

Rick W i will call soon. Thank you

Chris Hammontree
650 Windsor
Kingman, Arizona USA

bigred on February 15, 2010 at 7:26 pm

I was a manager and we offered free refills on large popcorn and large drinks. We had combos from time to time buy a large popcorn and large drink get a free jr. mint or something like that. When we offered the free candy it didn’t cost anything because it was usually run by the candy company or concession supplier and got the money from them.

When we had someone come back we usually gave them a refill. It was mostly as customer service but we never had an official policy on it. It would sometimes depend on the theatre manager. I also agree with closing the concesion stand shortly adter the last show. We closed ours We closed 30 minutes after the show started.

I don’t know that for an independent the free refills would be good because they don’t have any other income to off set it. It would depend on location. If you have a theatre that people come to just because it’s that theatre you might be able to offer some promotions like that.

I did notice that not all the theatres had free refills. When I transferred to a different market they didn’t offer any free refills.

I admit I don’t go to movies much anymore but that is because the theatre near me sucks. They are having a good day if they can actually get the movie on the screen. I had advance warning about them because my dad and uncle went there before and the film broke and they didn’t know how to fix it. I’ve never been there without noticing problems but when I would go there with friends I wouldn’t say anything about it. I would hear about the same things and then I would say something. It’s not a big chain but poorly run. There aren’t any other theatres close by and are almost an hour away.

Playhousegoer on February 19, 2010 at 5:51 am

This should, by now, be common knowledge, but just in case: The popcorn etc is solely overpriced to make up the (£) numbers (£) after the Distributors, Studios et al take their debatably overpriced percentage from the sale of each ticket. It’s the equivalent of Waiters & Waitresses in your local restaurant and their need for Tipping to survive. There seems to be a biased toward cinemas' themselves in thinking that it is they who are “ripping-off” the consumer when in fact it, allegedly, is from-on-high where the pecking order starts. The cinema is, sadly, at the bottom of the food-chain and has to, seemingly, overprice what is a rather cheap and effective snack…

anonymouschild1 on June 28, 2012 at 5:09 pm

Something EVERYONE needs to understand is that movie theatre’s DO NOT make more than 10% from ticket sales. The movie studios are killing movie theaters forcing them to charge more for concessions.. that is the only way for them to stay in business. Stop complaining, if it’s too much… don’t go to the movies. Sneaking in food doesn’t help either……

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