How Surge Pricing for Movie Tickets Could Bail Out Theaters in Feast-or-Famine Box Office

It will be a while before movie theaters get another opening weekend like ”The Batman,“ so major chains are trying to make the most of it

AMC Theaters raised some eyebrows when CEO Adam Aron announced on Thursday that America’s largest theater chain would introduce dynamic pricing to its locations by slightly bumping up ticket prices for the opening week of Warner Bros.’ “The Batman.”

But analysts and studio insiders say that AMC is continuing a trend that was already in motion with the release of Sony’s “Spider-Man: No Way Home” three months ago, and may be a key tool for theaters as they continue to dig out of the financial hole created by the COVID-19 pandemic in a market where only franchise tentpoles are driving ticket sales.

“Theaters have discounted matinee shows forever, have experimented with $5 Tuesdays and premium formats proved out that people will pay more to see the film the first two weeks,” Wedbush Securities analyst Michael Pachter said. “This is long overdue, and is a faster path to health than sticking with the old model of fixed pricing.”

Even with DC, Marvel and other big tentpoles like Universal’s “Jurassic World: Dominion” coming this year, the slow start to 2022 has shown that the dry spells in between big event films are getting longer and deeper. While some February films like Lionsgate’s “Dog” and Paramount’s “Scream” have enjoyed low-budget profitability, they haven’t brought substantial turnout for theaters. Annual domestic revenue for the year still remains 40% behind 2019’s pace and hasn’t reached $1 billion yet despite the $134 million opening weekend for “The Batman.”

Though major theater chain execs may chalk this up publicly to the ongoing impacts of COVID-19, the question of whether older moviegoers and mature films that appeal to them will ever return to theaters in a big way looms large over the industry, with the topic set for a panel at next month’s movie theater industry convention CinemaCon.

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Jeremy Fuster

Box Office Reporter • • Twitter: @jeremyfuster