The Multiplex Strikes Back

(Photo: Timothy Vollmer)

In The Knockoff Economy,we wrote about how turning products into experiences is one way to blunt the detrimental effects of copies. Products – especially digital ones – are often very easy to copy. But experiences can be highly copy-resistant.  Just think of music: it’s easy to pirate a song, but it’s very difficult to effectively pirate a live show. Or movies: it’s easy to pirate a film, but it’s impossible to pirate the experience of watching a movie at a premium theater like The Arclight Hollywood in Los Angeles.  You can’t cheaply copy the comfy reserved seats, the fancy food and drink, the great sight lines and sound.

All this, of course, comes at a price. But it helps justify the idea of going to a movie theater in an age when home downloads, on a widescreen computer monitor, can be pretty good.

How far can this strategy go? Pretty far, it seems. The L.A. Times reports that the upcoming World War Z movie release will go much deeper, offering a $48 “mega ticket” to zombie-crazed fans:

The package will include an advance screening in RealD 3-D of the Brad Pitt movie at select theaters nationwide on June 19 — two days before its worldwide release — along with one HD digital copy of the movie when it becomes available, a pair of custom RealD 3-D glasses, a limited edition full-size movie poster as well as a small popcorn.

Not surprisingly, the Mega Ticket comes with a mega price of $48.

Nonetheless, Regal, the nation’s largest theater chain, is hoping the jumbo ticket deal will catch on with some patrons.

“Regal is pleased to offer this ultimate fan event at five locations in conjunction with our partners at Paramount Pictures,” Ken Thewes, chief marketing officer for Regal Entertainment Group, said in a statement. “The interest and anticipation for Brad Pitt’s latest thriller is at a fever pitch and this ‘World War Z Mega Ticket’ offers a unique experience for our patrons.”

The announcement comes as theater owners and executives at the major studios have been discussing new strategies to boost their respective businesses. That’s in marked contrast to the bitter clashes that erupted two years ago over when movies would be released into the home. Promoting home video sales in theaters are among the ideas that have been discussed.

Mary Lorson

Sounds great, but who decided they could only afford to cover the cost of a small boxes of popcorn?


This doesn't take into account the one main reason I haven't been to a movie in about 6 years (Besides having a good home theater and living in NYC where it costs upwards of $20): other people.

If I pay $48 for a ticket, only to have some bozo next to me or behind me texting, chomping on popcorn, shaking ice, talking back to the screen, explaining every plot point or repeating every line to his spouse, or refusing to remove his screaming child, I'm not going to consider that an experience worth $48 regardless of the small popcorn the theater so nicely throws my way.

I know there are some indie theaters that have a zero-tolerance policy for talkers or phone users, which I fully support, and would probably attend if I lived near one (Assuming anyone ever makes a movie worth seeing again. All the good storytelling is on cable these days.)


I can pretty much guarantee at $48 there won't be any rowdy people bothering you. I have never had a bad theatre experience (at least when it comes to the audience) at an Arclight and that's just $12.


I don't know, I see a lot of Broadway shows where people paid $150+ and are completely obnoxious. Unfortunately rudeness knows no economic bounds...

Granted I expect complete and utter silence (aside from the only two sounds appropriate in a theater: laughter and applause), so maybe I'm just being unreasonable.


Ticket to normal 3D movie: $15
HD(I assume that means blue ray) DVD: at least $30
Small popcorn: $5

Sounds like a steal of a deal to me if you were going to see it in theaters and buy a copy anyways.


It says HD Digital copy of the movie. This would either mean one you can stream or download. It isn't a bad deal if you were going to the theaters anyway. The problem is they are trying to get people who don't go to movies to go.


Doesn't sound like an idea that will catch on.

They could have upgraded the small popcorn to a large popcorn, at least. And what were they thinking, offering popcorn without drink? Milk an extra $6 from moviegoers?


The copy of the movie and the popcorn are nice touches, but it's seeing a movie 2 days before its release that will get people to buy this ticket. I can easily see that approach being replicated in theaters across the country. For fans of blockbuster movies, ticket prices are probably fairly inelastic. Theaters don't really do much to capitalize on this. Even if there's only a handful of buffs in any given city, theaters are relatively small so there's a strong chance one will be filled. And the variable cost associated with showing a movie is extremely low.

The only question is how much more theaters will have to pay Hollywood to show movies a few days before the actual release date.

Enter your name...

And then there's the question of what "the actual release date" means, if this practice becomes widespread.

Zak S

I saw a similar thing while living in Singapore in 2011 . A normal ticket was about S$12 but new releases were available in a VIP auditorium for about S$25. I'm not sure what amenities were included because I always chose the cheap seats, which incidentally were nicer than any megaplex I've seen in the US. It seems to be working there.


This is why I think Drive-ins will make a comeback.

Going to a theater to see a movie? Meh...

Going to see the double feature at the drive in? d^_^b YEAHHHHH!


We have a drive in here in Tampa, Florida and it is actually quite popular. It is 5$ per person, and you can see as many movies as you want to in one sitting. Also, somehow they sell beer at our drive-in, which they make a killing off of. You don't get the movie theater surround sound and your seats are only as comfy as your car. But for the price, it's by far the best way to see a movie nowadays.


I used to pay extra for IMAX tickets because the higher ticket price lead to a self-selected group of moviegoers who were respectful, turned off their cell phones, and didn't talk during the movie.

A few years ago Hollywood was exploring the idea of allowing at home streaming of movies via Apple TV/Roku/smart TVs on the same day that moves are released in theaters. Unfortunately, the theater owners revolted and the studios had to give up on that idea.

P.S. Now we pay extra for Fake IMAX:


The problem is pretty much that the cost to copy is too low, so theres no incentive to be "original"

Mark Greer

This was the wrong approach. They should put out a marketing campaign that shows and explains how expensive and difficult it is to make a move. Build a sense of appreciation for new releases in society, coupled with raising the general price 20% or whatever on films that had a high budget (cheap romantic comedies stay the same price). Show society that attending movies enables Hollywood to produce greater movies.


Regal and other multiplex chains would benefit from creating a truly unique movie going experience. The Alamo Drafthouse has been very successful at doing this:

In Austin, TX where the chain originated, movies are more like concerts (and they serve booze).


There is an episode of Seinfeld where George says (paraphrasing) "when I watch a movie at home, I don't feel like I am doing anything. I can watch the same tape at your house, and I feel like I am doing something" I feel the same way about seeing a film in a theater. It just feels like "I am doing something"