How Much Does Your Popcorn Really Cost?

LetsAllGoToTheLobby

If you’re like a large portion of the millions of Americans who went to the movies this past weekend, you probably stopped at the concessions counter before making your way into the auditorium at your local movie theater. And like many, you probably looked at the prices and wondered if a home equity loan would be enough to cover the cost of a large popcorn and couple of drinks for you and your date. And you may also have pondered as to why the prices are so high. Well, there’s a very good reason for that.

Now you may know that theaters only see a small fraction of what is taken in at the box office, with a majority of the revenue going to the studios, particularly over the opening weeks of a film’s release. So, it is at the concession stand where a theater has to earn its rent money.

But exactly what kind of profit margins are built into the concession stand prices for the theaters to make that money? The folks over at Yahoo Movies were wondering the same thing and turned to Richard B. McKenzie, professor emeritus at the UC Irvine Merage School of Business and, more importantly, author of Why Popcorn Costs So Much At The Movies And Other Pricing Puzzles, for the exact numbers, and the results are a bit surprising and perhaps something to keep in mind when thinking about sneaking your own snacks in the next time you visit your local cineplex.

Popcorn

$8.15: The average cost* of a large bucket popcorn (with free refill)
90¢: The estimated cost of the raw goods needed to make it, per McKenzie’s research

That’s a markup of nearly 806 percent from kernel to consumption.

Soda

$6.31: The average cost* of a large soda
40¢: The estimated cost of the raw syrup that goes into a 50.5 oz. large Coke.

Adding in the cost of cups (say from Costco, $.07 apiece), lids (half a cent each), straws (about a penny per), and soda water (about 2 cents a serving) it’d be more like 51 cents a cup. Tack on another 40 cents if the moviegoer gets a free refill, and it’s still an 593 percent markup.

Candy

$4.25: The cost of plain M&Ms at AMC
$2.08: The cost of plain M&Ms from Wal-Mart

All in all a (relative) bargain at a 104 percent markup.

*Based on our survey of theater locations in Chicago, Los Angeles, and New York.

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About Rich Drees 6618 Articles
A film fan since he first saw that Rebel Blockade Runner fleeing the massive Imperial Star Destroyer at the tender age of 8 and a veteran freelance journalist with twenty years experience writing about film and pop culture.
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FilmEksis
June 2, 2014 10:40 am

How Much Does Your Popcorn Really Cost? http://t.co/OSM270gEoK

Erin Astolfi Blank
June 2, 2014 10:27 am

Because both of our closest theaters are locally owned make sure we frequent the concessions stands. Well look at that. One owner just built an IMAX and the other is preserving a small town venue with live concerts and a wet bar. :)

William Gatevackes
June 2, 2014 10:44 am

I remember reading somewhere that for theaters to make a profit on films alone, they’d have to sell out every showing every day. The cost of just the electricity to run the projectors is immense. Forget about heating/cooling a place as big as a theater.

William Gatevackes
June 2, 2014 10:48 am

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Britt Meitzler
June 2, 2014 10:48 am

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Erin Astolfi Blank
June 2, 2014 10:48 am

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Tristan Noel
June 2, 2014 11:02 am

Considering that everything runs on digital projectors these days, it could probably be done on less than 500 watts. HVAC is, of course, where it gets more expensive, but even then, the cost difference wouldn’t make that much of a change as compared to, say, an office. And considering they pay their cleaning staff far less, that gets worse for them. Meantime, the theater doesn’t make as much money from the Movies, per se. The amount they make per film, even with a sold out house, is pretty low. They’re a lot like gas stations that way. Granted, if they… Read more »

Tristan Noel
June 2, 2014 11:06 am

(Some sites are claiming that the bulb is a 4000 watt bulb, but this seems unlikely when you consider that for the size of the average theater, around 150 seats, the throw isn’t that long, and a 500 watt bulb can be used just fine as a very, VERY bright spot in a 500 seat single level theater.)

Steve DiMeo
June 2, 2014 3:48 pm

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Misty Red DiFrancesco
June 3, 2014 4:18 pm

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Misty Red DiFrancesco
December 13, 2015 8:48 pm

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Steve DiMeo
December 13, 2015 8:48 pm

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December 13, 2015 8:48 pm

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Erin Suzanne Astolfi Blank
December 13, 2015 8:48 pm

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