"Adjusting for 10 years of ticket price inflation and 3D ticket prices, MIB 3's initial attendance was significantly lower than that of Men in Black II." (link) [Italics mine]It is no wonder that the movie and theater business has had to consistently raise prices for the same period of time, is it? If you lose, say, 5% of your business every year for a decade, you have to raise prices to compensate, right?
Wrong. The audience is still there. Successes like The Dark Knight, The Avengers, Hunger Games, the Harry Potter franchise, Inception, and others all show that if you make a good movie, with an excellent story first and foremost, with great direction, good acting, and decent special effects, the audiences will come. A movie like TDK or Avengers cannot make $500+ million domestic without bringing in people who are not comic book fans, even when accounting for comic book fans going multiple times and 3D surcharges. Good word of mouth and good press puts butts in the seats, it is as simple as that.
Battleship recently bombed hugely at the box office. It had the same quality of special effects, similar direction and similar acting as The Avengers, so why did it do so poorly? It had a shitty story and pretty much no connection to the game on which it is based.
The problem is that movie people will look at The Avengers and say, "Well, see, we just have to put more heroes into one film; that will draw the audiences." Er, No. Just like the head of the studio saying they needed more "dark" comic book movies because TDK was a success was wrong, this thinking is wrong too. The Avengers is successful because it has a good story and good direction. If Warners had allowed Joss Whedon to make the Wonder Woman he scripted and wanted to direct in 2007, we would have seen this level of success earlier -- because Mr. Whedon respects the material, is a good TV/Movie writer, and is a talented director. In addition, this theory has proven false a number of times already, what with the overall lack of success of Spider-Man 3 (which the studio forced Sam Raimi to add Venom into, rather than waiting and getting the character into his own movie), the two Fantastic Four movies, and others.
The movie business is constantly re-imagining, re-making, and re-creating the same films audiences have already seen. This is because they see it as a win-win; the audience will go see X thing because it is familiar and they will get Y dollars from the audience. But this is a bad argument; usually those products are the ones they put the best talent behind to write a good story and direct it. Inception showed that an original effort can work just as well to draw in an audience, as did The Sixth Sense, Passion of the Christ, Finding Nemo, ET, and others.
The theaters are also to blame for the loss of audience; every time I go to Cheap Tuesday night, pretty much any show is mostly sold out and there are long lines at concessions. Every other night of the week, unless the movie has considerable buzz about it (like The Avengers currently), the theaters are half-full and the lines are easily managed. When I lived elsewhere, every time I went to the dollar theater, the lines were out the door for movies that had been out for 3-6 months, yet I always was able to get into even the biggest films on opening night at almost any theater. What this tells me is that people want the theater experience, but it is just too damned expensive. It used to be that a family of four could go to the movies for under $40, snacks included. Now, you're looking at close to $45 just for the tickets and another $20 for snacks. Dinner and a movie used to be a common date night, with dinner being the expensive part. Now, the movie is often the most expensive part of the night, what with tickets costing at least $10 each on an average day.
If I have a theater with two screening rooms, one that seats 250 people and one that seats 150 people, that's 400 total seats. At $10 a pop, that is a potential for $4000 per show for both theaters. But, at $10 a pop, I'm usually only seeing half-filled theaters, so I'm earning closer to $2000 per show total for both theaters. Let's say 1/3 of those that show up, or about 66 people, buy snacks averaging out to the cost of a popcorn ($4.50) and a drink ($3.00). I have made another $495. So my total income stands around $2500, per show for both theaters.
Now, I lower the prices to $7 per ticket. I get more butts in the seats, averaging closer to 80% per show, or 320 seats sold, and make $2240. The same 1/3 of people buy snacks. That's now 106 people, or $795 in concessions. This gives me a total of $3035 for the same shows, or a difference of $535 per screening.
Simply put, by lowering my prices, I have more people attending and make more money. Even without lowering concessions. Now, if I consider lowering concessions and get it closer to 50% of those attending getting something, then I have increased my profits yet again.Good movies and lower prices can bring more butts to the theater and, in the long run, get the theaters and movie makers more money. The current gimmicks are already not working, the higher concessions and ticket prices are driving more people away, and there are too many other places for people to spend their entertainment dollar these days. The theater owners and movie makers need to make sure they have a product that people want to see at a price they want to see it at. It is a simple equation that can save their business and ensure they are making money well into the future.