Hollywood gave us two big surprises last week.
One was Steven Spielberg’s new blockbuster “The Lost World,” which grossed $100 million in five days faster than any movie in history.
The second was the higher ticket prices that greeted Inland Northwest moviegoers who flocked to see “The Lost World” and other first-run features.
In Spokane, Act III Theatres raised general admission ticket prices at its five first-run theaters from $6 to $6.25. In the chain’s two Coeur d’Alene theaters, the price hike was even more pronounced - from $5.50 to $6.
Discount prices for students, seniors and bargain-hour showings rose from $3 to $3.25 in Spokane. The discount remained at $3 in Coeur d’Alene.
The price hikes, the company’s first since 1990, will not affect the movie chain’s two discount houses, Spokane’s Fox Tri-Cinemas and Eastside Cinemas, both of which charge $1 admission.
“The reason we raised prices was to cover our increased expenses,” said Tim Wood, vice president of operations for Act III. “Costs have gone up obviously on everything as time goes by. We try to keep our box-office prices as low as we possibly can but still remain profitable.”
Tickets go for as much as $9 in New York, $7 in Seattle and $6.50 in Portland. In this respect, Even so, Act III’s price hike has placed it at the top of the area’s movie market.
At Spokane’s Garland Theater, owner Don Clifton has no plan to increase his discount house’s $1 ticket price - even though, he admits, he contemplated upping it by 50 cents.
“Obviously we’re afraid that if we do, Act III wouldn’t follow,” Clifton said. “And the difference, when you take out studio percentage and then pay the entertainment tax to the city, we’ve just felt that it wasn’t worth the hassle or the impression that it gives people.”
The only other independent theaters in the Spokane-Coeur d’Alene area - the Magic Lantern Cinemas and the Post Falls Cinema 6 - are co-owned by Larry Blair, who also owns a fourplex in Sandpoint.
“No, we’re not going to raise our prices,” Blair said, laughing. “We’re the friendly theaters.”
Prices at the Magic Lantern, Spokane’s alternative movie house, range from a high of $5.50 to a bargainhour price of $3. The Post Falls Cinema 6, which is playing “The Lost World” on one screen, charges $5.50 and $3.
And in Sandpoint, Blair’s fourplex charges $5 and $3.
Despite the spiraling costs of Hollywood productions, with $80 million budgets now common, Wood says such expenses aren’t the main cause of rising ticket prices.
“I don’t know if I’d attribute it to that as much as the costs of operating a theater,” he said. “There was a significant minimum wage increase this year (in October, the federal minimum wage rose to $4.75 an hour). It’s just not as easy to find quality help, and certainly we’re paying a higher price for it.”
As for pairing the price hike with the release of “The Lost World,” a film that is smashing box-office records, Wood explained that as mere procedure.
“Theater owners typically evaluate price twice a year, going into summer and into Christmas when there is a big surge in product and therefore a resultant surge in attendance,” Wood said.
In the end, he says, rising prices are just a reality of life.
“When I look at what people have to pay, I may sympathize too much,” Wood said. “And I almost hate to use that quote because I don’t think the guy that’s out on the street whacking down $20 to get his family of four into the movies is going to be very sympathetic to us.
“But I think we have a fairly good record of trying to keep those prices reasonable over time. That’s our best defense.”
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