Despite disappointing at the box office by comparison to its predecessors, Shrek Forever After did manage to set records this weekend: 3-D IMAX tickets for the film in some parts of the country cost as much as $20 for a single adult ticket.
The Wall Street Journal reported just prior to this weekend that at least four AMC theaters in the New York City area would be charging those kind of prices for 3-D IMAX showings and the breaking of the $20 threshold has avid moviegoers in arms. Earlier this year in March, 3-D and IMAX prices were hiked for the last DreamWorks film, How to Train Your Dragon, with tickets going up more than 25 percent in some parts of the country.
Media analyst Richard Greenfield blogged with great concern about the fast increases in an economy that still continues to be unstable, no doubt punctuated by the market's drop last week and especially for children's films. With wait periods between theatrical release and DVD shrinking and proposals for On Demand entertainment that would allow new releases to make their way into homes even faster, some theaters could be digging themselves a grave.
One prime example is Alice in Wonderland. Disney's spring mega-hit comes out on DVD next week, just three months after its theatrical release date. The movie did excellent with IMAX and 3-D sales, yet the DVD release announcement came just a couple weeks maximum after the theatrical release. As only the second film to be made for 3-D, the novelty has a lot of time to wear off with future films (especially considering "Alice" was not a critical success) and convince many to wait, seeing as a $20 ticket for one person is enough to own the title forever.
The inability of Shrek Forever After to earn close to Shrek the Third in ticket sales (more than $50 million less) despite the addition of 3-D and IMAX options could finally be the sign theaters need to realize that the wrecking-ball momentum of their price increases has been premature. With Avatar and Alice in Wonderland being two of the top 20 films in domestic box office history as well as the first two live-action 3-D films, however, it will still be awhile before theaters might really be shaken of the idea that 3-D will continue to have staying power.
Would you pay $20 a ticket to see anything? That's the real question. If the pace of ticket prices continues at this rate, this could be a likelihood in major areas of the country with a year or two, at least for 3-D and IMAX. I'm still coping with $10 ticket prices for regular films, so I couldn't even begin to debate this question seriously. I also haven't seen a film in IMAX since Matrix Revolutions and have only seen Up and Avatar in 3-D (and I regret seeing Up in that format). My answer is clear, but I'm not average as far as most moviegoers go. It blows my mind to think that taking a family of four to see Shrek Forever After or any future IMAX 3-D animated film would cost nearly $80. If this were the future Avengers movie and it was a bunch of 18-26 year-olds paying their own way in IMAX 3-D it might be arguable, but what parent could justify that expense for a family film when popping in a DVD or Blu-ray on their flat screen TV (or maybe even 3-D TV) that the kids love despite having seen 15 times would only cost you the $20-30 you spent just once to own the thing?
I'm far from being a parent, but as a cinephile I would love nothing more than to take my kids to the movies and make that a staple of their childhood. Yet again, to have them sit and be entertained for a tiny fraction of the cost and not have to deal with keeping them quiet in public sounds like such a better plan. Kids don't have a sense of the novelty of a seeing a film the weekend it comes out unless their friends having DreamWorks or Pixar movie-themed backpacks or T-shirts and even then they're too young to be adamant about going to their parents and saying "I want to go nooooow!"
If the reports on ticket prices only get worse from here, the future of movie theaters will be bleak. It's only going to get easier to watch movies at home, even new releases, so in the long run, ticket prices like these are not going to help theaters make some of the money back that they simply don't make these days anyway. My only hope is that they're trying to milk the novelty of 3-D before the general public wises up and stops going because it's not special anymore and then when they do, theaters will go back to being reasonable.
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