Private Viewing: Would you pay more to see a ‘must see’ blockbuster movie?

Jennifer Lawrence. in The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1. This is one of the films that Odeon Cinem

Jennifer Lawrence. in The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1. This is one of the films that Odeon Cinemas have applied a premium price surcharge to. Would this put you off going to see it? - Credit: PA

Arts editor Andrew Clarke is incensed that Odeon cinemas have introduced a premium price for blockbusters

Anne Hathaway as Amelia in Christopher Nolan's blockbuster Interstellar. Would you pay more to see a

Anne Hathaway as Amelia in Christopher Nolan's blockbuster Interstellar. Would you pay more to see a blockbuster or opt for a smaller budget film?

Fancy watching a blockbuster at your local cinema? Would you be just as enthusiastic if the price of admission came at a premium price? It was discovered last week by film blog Film Divider that the Odeon cinema chain had quietly increased the price for some blockbuster films. The reason? Well, it seems, just because they are going to be popular.

A survey of Odeon cinemas has revealed that tickets for Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part One, Interstellar and the latest instalment of The Hobbit cost more than tickets for other films.

Initially the Odeon chain didn’t respond – I suspect that they are a little bit shame-faced at being caught out – but a staff member at a cinema told the blog when they queried the price difference that the increased prices were to “pay for the extra staff necessary when the cinema was screening a popular film”.

As someone who is a director of a cinema (the Ipswich Film Theatre, run by the Ipswich Film Theatre Trust) I think that this is rubbish simply because of fire regulations. Cinema is largely a walk-up business. Unlike theatre, where tickets are routinely booked in advance, the majority of cinema audiences turn up unannounced. Therefore, a cinema has to supply ushers and other staff members on the assumption that they are going to be busy.

Certainly, the industry has thrived until now without adding a surcharge to popular films. With next year going to be a busy year with the new Star Wars film being unveiled, a new instalment in the James Bond saga, a new Avengers film and a host of other superhero movies to me this smacks of profiteering. Cinemas already charge more for 3-D and IMAX movies.

After a period of silence, the Odeon high command was moved to issue a statement which looked to justify their policy of adding £1 to the price of a ticket for blockbuster movie. They said the surcharge was necessary “so we can give our guests the very best experience and keep it that way”.

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“We operate a dynamic pricing policy so that we can offer some excellent discounts during our quiet periods. As Interstellar is a blockbuster film and has a high popularity rating, the premium price is applied.” Quite honestly I think this smacks of a policy of “let’s fleece the customer”.

The fact that they add: “However, this extra £1 will be dropped from films after a few weeks of release,” doesn’t do anything to calm my anger because the people they are fleecing are the youngsters who want to see it as soon as it’s out so they can talk about it with their friends.

I notice that the other cinema chains have remained quiet about this growing row. No-one has come out and condemned it because I suspect they are watching to see how successful an experiment this is. I believe they are letting the Odeon take the flak and will judge if there is much consumer resistance. If audiences flee to other cinemas then I suspect they will adopt the moral high ground and trumpet their own lower prices but if the Odeon’s trade doesn’t disappear then I believe we may see this dynamic pricing policy adopted by the other mainstream cinema chains and it will quietly become the norm. The poor old cinema fan will once again become the loser.

The next question will be harder to judge. What films will be subject to the blockbuster surcharge? Will they just be Hollywood epics or will homegrown runaway hits also get landed with the premium price penalty? If Four Weddings and a Funeral was released now would it be given a premium price a week or two into release because it was a surprise hit at the time. It was a small-scale British comedy which suddenly exploded. In recent years films like The Queen and Made In Dagenham have followed a similar course.

I would far rather The Odeon bosses say: “We don’t think we are making enough money and we want to put our prices up.” I wouldn’t like it but at least I would feel as if I was being treated as a grown-up.

Still, as a friend, told me, when I complained to him about this. “It’s a free market out there. You can always take your custom to an independent cinema.”

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