But there's also an important emotional component, says Richard McKenzie, professor of economics at the University of California-Irvine and the author of Why Popcorn Costs So Much at the Movies. When you buy Junior Mints or another favorite treat, you're buying a piece of the moviegoing experience, along with "the opportunity to laugh with a crowd and everything else people go to the movies for," McKenzie says.
7. "...so we might put in a bar."
SOME THEATER owners are trying alternative concessions, offering menus that include more than the usual candy and popcorn fare, and even serving alcohol at some locations. For example, Regal Cinemas partners with Cinebarre at five venues serving beer, wine, mixed drinks, appetizers, burgers and pizza. And while there are only about 400 theaters across the country that serve liquor, the numbers have been slowly but steadily increasing. Terrell Braly, CEO of Cinebarre, says his company will expand to 20 theaters by 2011.
But that doesn't mean your local multiplex will be adding a bar anytime soon. There are inherent problems with serving drinks at the movies-for one thing, it precludes teenage audiences, a key demographic for many theaters. There was even resistance from studios until the late '90s, says Corcoran, including refusal to allow first-run films to be shown in theaters serving alcohol, for fear patrons wouldn't pay attention. Braly says Cinebarre has proved it can deliver the same quality of viewing experience as a traditional chain and says leaving out teenagers isn't a flaw in the business plan, it's a boon to adult patrons by removing "the middle-school mafia."
8. "Actually, your neighbor's cell doesn't bother us that much."
We've all been there: sitting in the theater, our attention consumed by the drama unfolding on screen-only to have the spell broken by a ringing cell phone or the distracting glow of a text message. And with the cultural shift toward personal technology well under way, such disturbances are becoming a regular part of the theater experience, says Toon van Beeck, senior analyst at market-research firm IBISWorld. "People are so glued to their cell phones that it's become a big problem for theaters," he says.
A major check on theaters attempting to police these and other sorts of audience disturbances is the fear of customer backlash, says van Beeck. Movie houses don't want to lose younger audiences-who are primarily responsible for disruptions-by cracking down too hard. "But they've got to at least show the baby boomers that they're trying," says van Beeck. Kerasotes Theatres, a Midwest chain with 94 theaters, has taken steps toward offering an escape from rowdy crowds with its "enchanted evening" policy. At select locations on Friday and Saturday nights, no one under the age of 17 is permitted without an adult into movies that start after 9 p.m. The policy, says a spokesperson for Kerasotes, is intended to get people to attend the movies as a family. "When Mom and Dad are around, everyone tends to be on their best behavior."
9. "Going to the movies could be hazardous to your hearing."
Movies sure can get loud, but could they actually be harmful to your ears? Individual theaters' decibel levels vary, but special effects-laden action flicks, for example, can hit the same dangerous territory as a loud rock concert, thus potentially contributing to hearing loss, according to the Center for Hearing and Communication. In fact, any sustained noise over 85 decibels (roughly the level of city traffic) can damage your hearing, says Amy Boyle, director of public education for the center.
"We've received complaints" about noise level in movie theaters, but those who have taken it up with theater staff "have been met with resistance," says Boyle. If you're concerned about volume, you can buy a sound level meter at retailers like RadioShack to measure the decibels around you. Meanwhile, if you experience any ringing in your ears after seeing a movie, then that means it was too loud. "Remember, even the sounds that we like can be damaging to our hearing," she says.
10. "It may soon be safe to go to the movies in February."
Moviegoing has traditionally been a seasonal activity. According to Herring, theaters bring in 40 percent of their yearly revenue in just three months: May, June and July. The winter holidays are another big period for box office revenue, while spring and fall have been dumping grounds for low-budget movies and potential flops. But things are slowly changing, as studios seek to spread their quality releases more evenly throughout the year. With the old calendar in flux, some smaller films are debuting with less competition and doing far better than expected.
Last year's surprise late-January hit Mall Cop, for instance, would probably not have been as successful had it been released in the summer against bigger films, Herring says. Indeed, we've started seeing more major releases off season in the past few years, says Alan Stock, CEO of the Cinemark theater chain. For example, September 2009 brought the release of family film Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs. And if the trend continues, moviegoers might eventually see some high-caliber films come out in the dead zone of the major-release calendar: the postholiday doldrums of January and February.