What would you be willing to pay to see a movie you’re pretty fired up about a couple of days before everybody else?
Hollywood apparently is trying to find out.
In five test markets about two weeks ago, Paramount offered special early screenings of Brad Pitt’s zombie apocalypse movie “World War Z.” For $50, you got 3-D glasses to keep, popcorn and pop, a poster and the DVD whenever it is eventually released.
An Associated Press story about the offer said four such screenings, in theaters averaging 250 seats, sold out. The fifth was about 80 percent full. Paramount called it a success.
A $50 movie might sound steep to you, until you stop and think. People in Omaha are already paying about $25 each for pop, popcorn and a prime-weekend screening of a movie like “Man of Steel” in IMAX and 3-D. The other $25 gets you the DVD, poster, glasses and the early peek.
Not really a ripoff, unless the movie turns out to be a dog and you’ll never watch that DVD, which is a risk in the case of some big releases.
Already, midnight movie screenings on Thursdays for big new releases are commonly giving way to earlier Thursday sneak screenings popular with hard-core fans of blockbuster franchises.
The AP writer points out that premium pricing for events happens in lots of other segments of the entertainment industry, so why not movies?
Let’s call The World-Herald’s recent stories about hotel room prices and ticket scalpers during the College World Series Exhibit A. Anybody who goes to a Super Bowl knows tickets for premium sports events get pricey.
Exhibit B could be concert tickets to an in-demand event like Justin Timberlake or Justin Bieber, or a VIP concert pass that gets you backstage with a rock star.
And Exhibit C? Well, there’s already anecdotal evidence that people looking for tickets to the Broadway musical “The Book of Mormon,” which arrives at the Orpheum Oct. 12, are finding some steep prices for prime weekend tickets online.
My advice to them: Don’t buy from websites other than ticketomaha.com (some are fraudulent, others just gougers). And save carrying charges if you can by sidling up to the ticket window at the Holland Center to buy your tickets.
Broadway itself has taken to charging premium prices for in-demand shows, regularly selling $300 seats now.
But those are all live events, aren’t they? Are movies different?
Lots of people I know are content to wait for the rental DVD to come out for just about every title they’re interested in. This is particularly true of older audience members, who aren’t interested in many titles playing in theaters this time of year, and parents with small children, who rarely get to the theater at all.
Still, the AP story points out, big-time directors George Lucas and Steven Spielberg recently spoke at the University of Southern California, offering dire predictions about movie prices in the future.
Lucas estimated tickets could end up at $50 to $150.
Spielberg predicted the price of your movie could eventually depend on the cost of making that film. Under his theory, the next “Iron Man” installment would cost several times what a movie like Spielberg’s “Lincoln” might charge, because it costs several times as much to make.
I don’t think Lucas is right. I don’t think people will regularly pay that much to see a movie in a theater — at least, not in the foreseeable future.
But Spielberg’s idea is intriguing. Moviegoers already are showing some willingness to fork over more for big-budget action movies and comic-book heroes, regularly choosing to see these films in the more expensive IMAX and 3-D formats.
His theory would also benefit people like me, who prefer smaller-scale human stories over spectacle and digital effects. And it could change the risk equation for getting movies made.
Paramount says its experiment with “World War Z” is really more about finding new, creative ways to market movies than it is about raising prices in general the way Lucas predicted.
Studios would love this to become a trend. Such advance screenings that include the DVD would mean built-in DVD sales before reviews and word of mouth might deflate those sales. Word of mouth (read: Internet) from early moviegoers could also generate ticket sales, assuming that word is strong. “World War Z” was the No. 1 movie globally last weekend, grossing $100 million last weekend alone and $263 million total so far.
For many people, though, the idea of a $50 movie is simply beyond financial reach. The law of supply and demand is still at work here. I think it might be a slow climb for the market to bear such price hikes, when what I’m mostly hearing is that weekend movie screenings are already pricey enough.