Ticket subscription services, leather recliners and great movies are bringing record audiences into movie theater seats
There’s never been a better time to go to the movies.
The ticket subscription wars are heating up just in time for the July 4th blockbuster weekend, as Marvel’s “Ant-Man and the Wasp” and “The First Purge” hit theaters. Today’s moviegoers don’t have to stress about dropping around $10 for each picture (closer to $20 for 3-D and IMAX screens, or amenities like reclining chairs) now that MoviePass and AMC Entertainment are offering competing passes to see several flicks for around the cost of just one adult ticket.
MoviePass disrupted the ticket-buying process last year with its $9.95 per month unlimited movie subscription good for more than 36,000 theaters across the country. But then AMC, the world’s largest movie exhibitor with more than 640 theaters, came back swinging last week with its own Stubs A-List plan, which lets members see three movies a week at all of its theaters for $19.95 a month. And their pass lets viewers buy tickets and reserve seats in advance, while MoviePass requires checking in at the theater at showtime.
“AMC is bringing lots of great value to the table — we have more premium forms of screens, like IMAX and Dolby, than any other exhibitor,” Stephen Colanero, Chief Marketing Officer of AMC, told Moneyish. “Customers want a nice easy way to get access to entertainment.”
— AMC Theatres (@AMCTheatres) June 27, 2018
And now Texas-based theater chain Alamo Drafthouse is jumping into the fray, announcing last week that it’s testing a monthly unlimited movies service in its Yonkers, N.Y. location, with the first invites rolling out on July 18. It hasn’t revealed pricing yet.
But the competition isn’t just great for moviegoers’ wallets. AMC’s announcement has been a boon to MoviePass, which saw its subscriptions jump just over 25% after AMC’s announcement. “AMC is the biggest player out there … so it validates the subscription model that much more,” Ted Farnsworth, CEO of MoviePass parent company Helios and Matheson, told Moneyish. “It gave the industry much broader exposure, and all ships rise with the rising tide.”
MoviePass, which is led by Netflix founding executive Mitch Lowe, recently hit 3 million members, and expects to pass 5 million by the end of the year. “It’s hard to believe, but Netflix is 21 years old now, so a whole generation has grown up on subscriptions,” said Farnsworth.
People love binge-watching on Netflix and Hulu because the flat subscription rates let them try watching as many shows and movies as they like, and it doesn’t cost them anything except time if they don’t like something. Discount movie ticket subscriptions like MoviePass give people the means to consume films in the theater the same way. MoviePass subscribers (mostly Gen Xers ages 30 to 44) saw an average of six more movies in the past six months than non-subscribers, according to a recent National Research Group study. Half (49%) said the pass drives them to see movies that they wouldn’t normally see in theaters; that they are twice as likely to attend movies on opening weekend; and they believe the service has saved them $120, on average.
“People are going to movies with us that they would normally never go to, because they don’t want to spend $12 [on just one film] and walk out saying, ‘Man, I wish I didn’t go see that movie,’” said Farnsworth.
Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst at comScore, agrees that discount passes boost attendance. “Instead of the old model where you show up at the theater and buy a single ticket at a time, in this world you essentially buy a month’s worth of movies at once, and then pick and choose what you want to see and when,” he told Moneyish. “So this is getting more people into theaters, and it’s getting more people excited.”
This is just one piece of the evolving moviegoing experience spurring record ticket sales. The domestic box office has already passed $6 billion dollars in the first six months of 2018 — the earliest it’s ever hit that figure — and admissions are up more than 8% over last year, according to the National Association of Theatre Owners and comScore. Total ticket sales should pass $11 billion by December, for the fourth year in a row.
The slate of back-to-back blockbuster movies that have hit the big screen the past several months is also part of that push back into theaters. “Black Panther,” “Avengers: Infinity War,” “Incredibles 2” and “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom” have broken box office records — and big, buzzworthy movies put butts in seats.
“But I not only want a great movie,” added Dergarabedian. “I want a great in-theater experience.”
And the major theater chains including AMC, Regal Entertainment and Cinemark Theaters are stepping up their game to get more guests. AMC flipped the script six years ago by pioneering plush leather recliners in 247 of its renovated theaters. And it’s found that even though a theater loses about 50% of its seating capacity when it replaces chairs with recliners, the number of people buying tickets to watch a movie in those luxe loungers jumps between 30% and 50% the year after the upgrade. Regal and Cinemark have followed suit by installing their own recliners.
“We’re very much about creating a better experience for our guests, whether it’s recliners or better food,” said Colanero. “Some theaters have started introducing those recliners with seat warmers. Last year we introduced a wider variety of food offerings, like flatbread pizzas and chicken-and-waffles sandwiches. People want something better than they had before.”
Like having your dinner-and-a-movie under one roof with restaurant-theaters like AMC’s Dine-In locations that deliver entrees and appetizers (plus wine, beer and cocktails) to your seat. Regal’s Cinebarre Theatres dish movie-themed entrees like “To Kill a Mockingburgers” and blackberry gin & tonics sent to your seat with the push of a button.
Tickets at these upscale theaters can add an extra $5 to $10 to the already hefty $9.16 average national ticket. But this is still cheaper than 40 years ago; those $2.34 stubs adjusted for inflation equal $9.34 today. So movie night has always been a splurge.
I saw Fallen Kingdom again tonight with my husband and some friends at a Cinebarre theatre!! It was even better the second time! 😭💕💕 They had the cutest themed drinks there too, which made me super happy😭😭 I got a Trex Tiki and my husband got Blue Raptor Margarita! 🌴💙 I wanted to take the cups home but I forgot BLEH 😵 #jurassicpark #jurassicworldfallenkingdom #jurassicworld #cinebarre
And many moviegoers — particularly millennials (between age 22 and 37 in 2018) — will pay for a great experience. That is why U.S. spending on activities such as spectator events, amusement parks, restaurant dining and traveling has grown more than 1.5 times faster than overall personal-consumption spending, according to McKinsey.
But films like “Black Panther,” “Get Out” and “Wonder Woman” are also cultural landmarks that beg to be watched with a crowd. Remember when “Black Panther” blew up social media with pix of people flashing the Wakanda greeting stance? “Seeing a movie on a big screen is a singular experience,” said Dergarabedian. “Even if you put a 50-foot screen in your house, you are still missing the emotional connection you get sharing the experience with fellow movie patrons.”
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