Backlot Bitch: My Precious Wallet! Or, How The Hobbit Might Cost You More Than You Think

When do you draw the line on spending money to go to the movies? Tickets are priced differently depending on your region: If a family of four goes to the movies in my Central Florida hometown, it'll set them back $32. In a more expensive city like Boston, where I currently live, the total cost is more like $44.

But each new technology and gimmick that accompanies today's moviemaking gives an excuse for theaters to charge a little extra. Most IMAX theaters in this country, for instance, do not contain the traditional dome screen that adds to the experience by engaging your peripheral vision; rather, they offers an oversized screen with the IMAX movie projected onto it. It's better quality in terms of projection and sound, but it's hardly the immersive experience suggested by the ads. We like to call these screens LieMAX, and they come with the exact same surcharge as a domed IMAX. Then there's the 3D surcharge, for glasses that darken the movie in an attempt to add depth to the images onscreen. There's research to suggest that not everyone can see 3D. So for an experience that you might not see, that could cause eyestrain, and that might even induce motion sickness, you're ponying up another $2–3 on your ticket. For a premium movie experience, you're looking at between $4–$6 dollars added to the prices mentioned above.

Bilbo Baggins smoking thoughtfully frome THE HOBBIT AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY

We're giving those prices the side-eye too, Bilbo.

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey has tickets selling in major cities with an option to see it in 48 frames per second. For me, the faster projection is just another excuse to tack on a surcharge. First off, if you're seeing the film in 3D, there's a good chance you're watching a digital version, which is to say those are not the frames of film stock speeding through the light of the projector. So more accurately, it's a big ol' high resolution file showing you twice as many images as you're accustomed to. The standard cinema speed of projection is 24 frames per second. A 48fps ticket costs $17 in Boston—nearly double the amount of a standard ticket, and I'm not even considering tickets at premier theaters that serve a full-course meal, or the utter stupidity that is the D-Box trend, which involves an even bigger surcharge.

What's the overall effect of seeing the film at 48fps? Mixed. Some critics liked it, but many, including me, thought the quality was far inferior, with action scenes that looked as unreal as the video-game demos at Best Buy. Motion blur looked bizarre, and I still find the muted tones of 3D to kill the splendor of exterior shots. Director Peter Jackson showed how powerful CGI could be with the painstaking details of the Lord of the Rings trilogy. In The Hobbit, CGI characters were obvious and actors looked to be acting against a green screen. I spent several minutes throughout the film taking my 3D glasses off to close my eyes in an attempt to stave off straining. If this is supposed to be the trick to "fix" the problems of 3D, leave me and my wallet out if it.

Think this isn't an issue? With hundreds of independent theaters staring down possible closure because of the studio-driven push to digital conversion, many communities are going to be left with only big-name behemoths offering 3D and LieMAX options. This might be the only way to catch movies in a few years. I know the only 2D showing of a kid's movie is the first show of the day for a particular theater in Boston—and If you can't make that time, then too bad for you. You can take the 3D surcharge to the wallet or go home. So many families who can't afford the price of taking their kids are opting out going to the movies.

This hurts me personally, as I grew up with a movie-loving mother who forked over plenty of her hard-earned pay to take her two daughters to the movies often. It hurts, too, because I work in a theater and get the "You know how much I paid for movie tickets when I was your age?" speech almost every time I'm on the clock. Empty gimmicks like 48fps can leave moviegoers saying "never again" and resigning themselves to the Redbox or Netflix schedule. Many already have.

And if the movie industry is concerned about declining movie-theater attendance, they've got a funny way of dealing with it. First, they saddle exhibitors with the cost of digital conversion, a move that mostly benefits studios. This then drives the ticket prices up in order to offset the cost of that conversion. Consumers are left holding the bill, and those who don't pay up are most likely staying home—or even pirating the movie, and we all know how much studios love that. For the sake of movie culture, I hope the gimmicks stop and moviegoers can go back to enjoying the entertainment they paid for without having to lose a week's worth of pay in the process.

by Monica Castillo
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Monica Castillo is a freelance film critic. You can usually find her on Twitter talking about the movie she just watched at @mcastimovies.

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13 Comments Have Been Posted

Thank You

Thanks for discussing this issue of digital conversion and the film industry. I volunteer at an independent non-profit movie theater in my hometown and they're struggling to get enough funds in order to convert their projectors to digital (not 3D). It pretty much sucks. I also saw the Hobbit (luckily in 2D) and I noticed a lot of CGI along with moving too fast. What bothers me the most as person who appreciates The Hobbit is how their splitting it up into three films :P


i didn't know there were non-profit movie theaters.


There are at least two in Boston. They are not beholden to the studios and have the freedom to program indie and older films to serve their audience. They are usually saved for historical or cultural purposes, rely on the public and arts funding, and so on.

For example:

I Remember When

I am old enough to remember the days when people of most any economic means, even the poor, would treat themselves to attending entertainment events once in awhile, whether they be live concerts, movies, sporting events, and/or other public events that bring communities together. Today, it's all about the haves versus the have-nots. I know too many people of even comfortable means are finding that they cannot afford to attend live events that are so necessary in creating communities and nourishing their beings. Movies shown on screens to live audiences count as "live events," too. For all the digitization that exists today, nothing at all matches the unique experiences of LIVING performances.

There is something clearly unacceptable about all this "profiteering" at the expense of those who can afford it, prohibiting to those who need it most not being able to afford it at all. It's time to take a stand, and strive towards making ALL forms of live entertainment accessible to the masses again, nourishing these beings, bringing them together as communities.

Quit your whining.

The price of a single ticket in Canada is $17.99. A single meal at McDonalds here can easily exceed $10. Our taxes are much higher. We pay more for energy. All prices are higher elsewhere than in the USA. We are tired of subsidizing the USA's low prices!

In short: quit your whining!

That wasn't whining

I was commenting on an unfortunate fact that doesn't necessarily apply exclusively to Americans. High entertainment prices and accessibility to cultural events are indeed global issues. As an American who has travelled in and out of Canada, I understand your financial "pains." I used to get good returns exchanging currency. No more ...

Are you guys making peanuts

Are you guys making peanuts to ? Because if you're making $9.00 an hour like my husband, who has worked in the warehouse industry for 10 years, and McDonalds is $10 dollars (It's about 5-6+) then sucks for you. I'd love for a 50 hour work week to be enough to get basic dental care but I'm not bitching.


I live in Canada Nova Scotia specifically I wish someone cared enough to look at the cost of living on minimum wage here compared to the cost of basic living. I get the feels statscan doesnt give a damn. The cost of living compared to what you make is not ethical, barely covers basic needs like food and many of my mom and her coworkers at a grocery store called Sobeys are the working poor. The taxes here go up and up and the corruption of the government is evident in how women's rights are restricted (restrictions to get an abortion and people in the rural areas have to go really far for an abortion) It is a very conservative and backwards place. Canada is not necessarily better than the states but I happy that even though my family is working poor we don't pay anything for prescriptions and doctors I think everyone deserves that but there becomes a point when the taxes on everything are so bad you can barely afford to eat and the price of clothes is crazy. Basically Nova Scotia is unlivable unless you are upper middle class. & the poor are silenced like they dont exist, Dexter couldnt give less of a shit about women and natives. Typical white cis man. Just what we need. *sarcasm*. The retail tax here is 15 percent and it burns. So it may sound like 9.90 an hour is a lot but thats because you are comparing it with how much it is to live where you live including the tax. Its basically an illusion.

Paid $8 last night in Canada

Canada is a big country, you aren't helping anything by saying "the price of a movie in Canada". I live in Toronto, and I think the most I've ever paid for a movie ticket is $15 for 3D. I just went to see a movie last night for 8$ each, $7 for teens- ya that's the cheapest place in town (rainbow cinemas) but its still there. I don't know where you're going to see your movies but costs are not routinely $17 each anywhere i've been, maybe people in your city are just getting extra ripped off. Also, the fact that movie ticket prices here are going up is part of the same phenomenon in the U.S. so I'm not sure why you'd be offended by this trend piece. The "we have it even worse here so you can't complain" is pretty stupid, because then no one gets to complain about things that affect us all.

$32 for a family of four?!

$32 for a family of four?! It's $14.75 for a student ticket at my theatre in Los Angeles :(


Yeah, tickets are priced regionally. Big city hubs like NYC and LA can cost the average adult moviegoer almost $20 for a 3D movie ($18 for the AMC in the heart of NYC). You have to go out to smaller suburban areas for something like $8 a (non-3D) ticket (the city I used was Tampa, Florida, not exactly small but it isn't the big leagues either).

I can definitely understand

I can definitely understand and sympathize, but it's a problem with an easy solution: Don't see it in IMAX and don't see it in 3D. It cost me and my husband $5 each to see The Hobbit. We saw it in 2D and a matinee in Sacramento. I know some theaters don't always offer many 2D showings but as someone who can't go to 3D movies (I wear glasses and it's very uncomfortable to put glasses on top of my glasses), we always go out of our way to see it in non-3D. I do agree that movie tickets have gotten more expensive, but you have to consider: It costs more money to simply *make* movies now. Look at the budgets: Wreck-It Ralph cost an estimated $165 MILLION to make. Skyfall cost $200 million, and the Hobbit, $180 million. The original Toy Story in 1995 cost $30 million, but Toy Story 3 cost $200 million. Price of movies go up, ticket prices go up.

Whoa! You all should come to

Whoa! You all should come to Minnesota! Me and my boyfriend saw it 2D and it was $5 per ticket for the matinee (before 530). We each paid for our own ticket and I spent less seeing the hobbit than if I were to have gone to Starbucks!

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