SuperShadow: Obviously, I struck a deep nerve with many of our readers when I quietly stated that you're probably going to have to pay a little more for a ticket to Episode 1 than your average film. Many of you are obviously irate. So I called up a good buddy of mine who is a regional manager for one of the "big" cineplex chains here in Northern California and had a little impromptu chat.
I told him that the new Star Wars movie is the hottest and most talked about movie on the internet and the movie is STILL 10 months from release! He replied that outbidding the other chains for Ep 1 was the single most important factor to insure having a successful Summer 1999 (although he didn't lose any sleep worrying about it at night).
I immediately asked how much his chain was going to charge for an Ep. 1 ticket if they were so lucky to win the rights to exhibit the prequel. He said it depended on many factors:
1. Would the distributor (20th Century Fox) set a maximum ticket price in the exhibition contract. (Probably not)
2. How much "up-front" money is the distributor going to demand for the rights to screen Ep. 1.
3. And how much of the box-office gross is the distributor going to demand for the life of the theatrical exhibition.
I quickly told my friend that Fox was going to ask for the sweetest deal in Hollywood history. Perhaps as much as 90% of the first weekends gross with a lesser percentage for each successive week (i.e., 75% for week 2, 65% for week 3).
My friend told me in no uncertain terms that they could not afford to lose Ep. 1 to a competitor because Ep. 1 is expected to do monster business at the concession stands as well as at the box office. And the film will undoubtedly rule the box-office charts for at least the first months of its release.
He told me that it would only be natural for ticket prices to be higher for Ep. 1 just because of all the demands that the distributor is going to want from them. However, he had no idea just how much more they would need to charge for Ep. 1. For instance, if for the average movie, the distributor and the theater split the money fifty/fifty. Then, if the theater charges $ 5 dollars, then the theater would get $ 2.50 for each ticket sold.
If Fox asks for 90% of gross ticket sales then the theater would only get 50 cents out of each $ 5 dollar ticket sold. Hence, there would be a financial incentive to raise ticket prices to perhaps as much as $ 10 dollars in order to double their take to $ 1 dollar. With concession business (i.e., popcorn, sodas and candy) and spill-over business to other movies when the prequel sells out, the theater should do quite well. THEORETICALLY. However, he said that many chains are going to balk at having to pay such an enormous percentage of the box-office pie to Fox. He finds it hard to believe that Fox will actually be able to get 90% (even if it's just for the first weekend of release). 90% would be unprecedented. Yet, the possibility that Ep. 1 might be the next $ 600 million Titanic mega-hit is too much to miss cashing in on. Theater owners are in a Catch-22. If they pay through the nose to get Ep. 1, they will get buried in red ink if Ep. 1 flops. Likewise, if their competitor secures Ep. 1, then they will get buried in red ink if Ep. 1 turns out to be the hit film of the century . . .
However, he did fear this: What if the prequel doesn't do as well as expected? The result would be that the theater would be stuck for many weeks with a film that is performing poorly and they would still have to give Fox the bulk of the box-office pie.
He admitted that each theater chain is going to want to actually see the film before making such a monumental investment in the film. A reasonable requirement. The Godzilla debacle is going to hurt Ep. 1 just because all the theater owners and managers are now wondering what if? What if Ep. 1 underperforms? Will it cost me my job?
Regardless of how well Ep. 1 is going to do next summer, there is precedence for theater owners raising ticket prices for a Star Wars movie. If you're old enough to remember the original release of Return of the Jedi way back in 1983, then you will remember that many theater owners raised their normal ticket prices for the final installment of the SW Trilogy. This increase was significant. The average movie ticket cost about $ 2 dollars in 1983. However, at many theaters, ROTJ tickets were going for $ 3 bucks each. That's a 50% increase over the average movie. Did anyone complain? H*ll no.
It's called supply and demand. When demand exceeds supply, then prices go up. In 1983, outside of E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial 2, ROTJ was the most anticipated "sequel" of all time. Theater owners could have asked for your first born son and many . . . I mean many would have been willing to comply. Well, I might be exaggerating somewhat, but nobody I knew of ever complained about the price hike. I mean if you would pay $ 2 bucks to see Stripes or Porky's, how much would you pay to see the final Star Wars film? Needless to say, we all paid our $ 3 dollars and had the best times of our lives (at a theater). Yes, we even loved the Ewoks back then. I guess we didn't know any better.
So if you're use to plopping down $ 5 dollars to see the latest flick at your local cineplex, don't be surprised if you're asked for $ 10 dollars or more to see the prequel (by far the most anticipated film of all time . . . # 2 ain't even close . . . what is # 2 by the way? Episode 2) during its opening weekend. It's inevitable. It's the law of supply and demand. If you won't pay $ 10 bucks to see Ep. 1 then believe me that the guy (probably me) standing behind you will gladly push you out of the way and snatch up your ticket . . .
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