Cineplex Odeon Theatres in Los Angeles has raised its ticket prices by 50 cents to $7.50, and ushers may have to ask for combat pay because moviegoers aren't happy about it.
"Fifty percent of the people complain. Some of them get angry and ask to see the manager," said Victor Hahn, who works in the ticket window at the Cineplex in Universal City. "I'm sure the manager can tell you some pretty unique stories about (customer reactions)."
Hahn's manager declined to share any war stories, when contacted. Patrons, however, were quick to speak up.
"I'm astounded," said Marlene Halsey, who was visiting from Oregon and wanted to see "Back to the Future Part III." "Where I come from, it's still $5 to go to the movies."
"With the ticket prices going up, you figure they could at least give you a break on the parking," said Andre Rougeau, of Los Angeles, a customer at Cineplex' Universal City theaters.
Said Dweezil Zappa, who was catching an early movie with his sister Moon, "Like they need more money?"
Apparently, Cineplex does. The 50-cent hike was caused by increased expenses, said Cineplex spokeswoman Jo Mira Clodman. Cineplex theaters in New York and New Jersey increased tickets to $7.50 last summer.
The Toronto-based theater chain--which operates 1,300 screens nationwide--has been burdened by a long-term debt that was reported at $580 million in September. Much of that debt came from upgrading theaters. As of last December, the company had just $2.7 million cash on hand and had negative working capital--that is, its liabilities exceeded its assets.
The new price arrived in Cineplex's 50 Los Angeles-area screens two weeks ago, just as patrons began rushing to see summer releases. But other theater chains, such as AMC, Mann and Edwards, still charge between $5 and $7 in Southern California and said they had no plans to increase ticket prices this summer.
At Cineplex's Universal City and Century City complexes, customers pay the highest price in town and an additional $2.50 to $3 for parking, making an evening at the cinema nearly as expensive as box seats at a Dodger game.
"Cineplex is the first to raise prices every time," said Alex Ben Block, editor-in-chief of Show Biz News, a trade newsletter. "The debt has overwhelmed them and they are desperate for cash flow. The philosophy of the company is that it's OK to push prices to the edge of what's acceptable as long as you provide first-rate movies and theaters, and real butter on the popcorn."
And movie-going is still cheaper than boxing or opera, Block added.
Cineplex's Clodman said the extra half-dollar hasn't scared away customers. "We're doing very well at the box office. In Los Angeles the performance has continued to be good."
"The prices go up every year," said Mark Robinson, as he waited in line for "Last Exit to Brooklyn" at the Cineplex in Century City. "There's nothing I can do about it."
Another patron was philosophical.
"I think that movies are a bad habit that comes out of boredom and the more they cost, the better," said Adam Howard, of Los Angeles. "It's like, I wish cigarettes were more expensive so I'd stop smoking."
Howard bought a ticket anyway.