The Magical World of Movie Concessions

Let’s all go out to the lobby

Let’s all go out to the lobby

Let’s all go out to the lobby

And accumulate some debt

                  -Phil Schuman

Do you like feeling like an idiot?  Do you like being taken advantage of?  If so, the movie theatre concession stand is the perfect place for you. 

Now…full disclosure: I was not very wise with my financial decisions the last time I went to the movies--it’s the inspiration for this post.  I was craving sugar--Coke--after 3 hours of non-stop basketball at the HPER (I still call it that).  My date (wife) wanted popcorn.  So that we could share each, we elected to go the medium route for each. 

Let's Go Out to the Lobby

Now only in America is a medium soda 32 oz (fun fact: the original McDonalds Coke size in 1955 was 7 oz.[1]).  And only at a movie theatre could that 32 oz. medium soda cost you $5, when you could buy 256 more oz. (i.e., 24 pack with 12 oz. cans) at a grocery store for just $2 more.  To break these numbers down a bit more: to buy the equivalent of a 24 pack, you would have to pay $45 at a movie theatre ($45 vs. $7).  My favorite number, however, is the cost per ounce (essentially, cost per sip):

Movie theatre: $0.156 per ounce

24 Pack: $0.024 per ounce

In other words, every time you take a sip of movie theatre Coke, you’re paying $0.13 more than you have to.  Talk about a ripoff!

To assess the absurdity of the popcorn is a little tougher since it’s not as precise as the Coke’s flavor ounces.  We paid $6 for our medium bag, which contains 12 cups of popcorn, estimated.  To buy a tub of Orville Redenbacher “Movie Theatre Butter” popcorn, which contains 15 cups of popped popcorn[2]  at Wal-Mart, costs $2.28.  This means that 12 cups of popcorn would cost $1.82 at Wal-Mart.  In other words, the movie theatre is charging you twice as much for popcorn if you only buy a single tub of popcorn at Wal-Mart.  Chances are that if you were to buy in bulk, the cost per 20 cups would go down significantly. 

To finish off my rambling: inside a movie theatre my salty, buttery, and sugary meal cost me $11.  That same meal, bought outside of the movie theatre, would have cost me $2.59  So…going back to my original question: do you like feeling like an idiot?  Because the movie theatre will gladly dupe you and, that magical Saturday night, me, out of $8.41.