Graphic by Dustin Stanton

Graphic by Dustin Stanton

By Elizabeth Frank and Ruth Vitale


This is a movie ticket. In the United States, it costs an average of $8.00.

That average includes $20 tickets for fancy dine-in theatres, IMAX tickets in New York City, $4 tickets for matinee shows in smaller cities, and children’s tickets. Movie-going is the most affordable, out-of-home entertainment choice in most American communities, aside from watching your kids’ sports team or going to the town library. Taking your family to the theater is still a treat though – something you choose to spend hard-earned money and too-limited time on.

So, you wonder where all the money goes? Good question! Let’s break it down:

You know the hundreds of people whose names appear at the end of a movie? Yeah, the ones you didn’t pay attention to because you were too busy picking stray popcorn bits off your shirt while you called your Uber.

Those guys get 50% – as well they should. If it weren’t for them, you’d have spent the last two hours twiddling your thumbs or picking at your bellybutton instead of enjoying a movie that made you laugh, cry, or cheer. That 50% goes to trying to recoup the production cost (in the tens of millions, if not hundreds of millions) and the marketing costs (also in the tens of millions, if not hundreds).
What happens to the rest of the ticket price? Well, a little over 30% goes to pay the wages of all the people who sold you your ticket, your popcorn, helped you to your seat, played the film, and then cleaned up the theater when the movie was over. They’re employed by the theater and this is how they make their money. For many teenagers, it’s their first job – and a wake-up call that real work requires showing up on time, putting your phone away, and taking responsibility. Others work to pay for college. And many still use their theater jobs to support their families and pay their rent.
Finally, we come to the theater itself. You might be living with eight other people in a two-bedroom apartment to save on rent, but theaters don’t have that “luxury” – and a theater’s electric bill and other operating costs are HUGE. About 20% of each ticket goes to pay the rent and the bills – and the landlord doesn’t give a three-day grace period.
Some people think it’s a joke when theater owners say, “We’re in the popcorn and candy business!” It’s no joke. If it weren’t for Orville Redenbacher, Skittles, Sour Patch Kids, and Sno-Caps (and, increasingly, water and other healthier choices), the movie theater business couldn’t stay in business.

There are over 5,000 theaters in the United States and they are important places for communities to gather. Think about it – when you were a little kid and that film with the exploding racecars fighting the monsters from outer space came out?  That was at the movies. When you took your crush to watch that new sappy Ryan Gosling romance and you kissed for the first time? That was at the movies. And when you and your Dad went to go see Arnold Schwarzenegger kick ass one last time? That was also at the movies!

Going to the movies is an experience, and depending on where you live, it might cost less than a cup of coffee or more than a Venti caramel Frappuccino with four pumps of vanilla. No matter what, you’re paying for something that’s worth its value – and you are supporting both the creative community and your local community.  Your support matters!