Don't go to the movies in the UK

After living in London for a year I should know that going to the movies in this country is a painful experience. But every now and then enough time passes and I forget that and I buy tickets to the cinema. Then, after the film (or more likely before and during) I can’t stop complaining about almost every aspect of the experience. I would like to say I have come up with some kind of solution, but in general I think I am just going to bitch about it.


If you are going to a movie that is even mildly recent, and you are going in London, there is a good chance you will be paying up to £17 for a ticket (standard screen, 2D). I am not generally someone to complain about prices (well, other than over-priced bars in Shoreditch), but that is quite a lot.

Sure, you can get cheaper tickets, somewhere in the £10-£12 range some days/times, but that is still quite a bit to pay considering…

The Advertising

I get it, movie cinemas are always going to play advertising before a movie - they have a captive audience, with at least a general idea of what the people like (depending on movie choice). But in England this isn’t playing a couple of ads then starting the movie (or at least the trailers) at the time on the ticket. In England the time they say the movie starts is actually the time they start playing 20 minutes of ads. This isn’t just annoying (no one wants to sit through ads) but it is also kind of offensive - I already feel I have paid too much for a movie, so why should I also be force fed advertising as well?

Isn’t the whole reason for having advertising before a movie meant to be a way to try and control ticket prices? It gives an alternative revenue stream so that the cinemas don’t have to charge so much, which means more people come to the movie and the advertising is worth more? When was the last time you went to the movies and the cinema was full?
If you are going to have that level of advertising, why not lower the prices and at least have more people there to advertise to? Then you can claim more people watch the adverts and charge the companies more for that?


OK, I don't have anything else, maybe it is just the price of movies and all the advertising that annoys me about movies in England. But while we are here, maybe I can just talk about the movie industry in general.

I understand there are a lot of factors that impacting running a cinema, especially in a major city. Prices for property/rental costs are huge, and if you have big screens you need big buildings. You have to have multiple screens to cover enough play times to be appealing to a wide audience, and have the ability to run a wide selection of movies.
If you have a bigger property you probably have higher overhead costs for power, heating and staff.

So, you need to cover those costs by selling tickets and advertising. Unfortunately the public have more options for entertainment these days (I was going to say the public is smarter, but I don’t really think that is true). Some of the TV being produced is better than ever, and there is a functionally unlimited amount of free content being made and distributed on the Internet (sure, it isn’t all good, but some is). What’s more, people have basically free access to any non-current movie (via Netflix etc), and if they really care about the most recent movies they can always find a way to watch them illegally (not condoning this, just pointing it out).
So what that seems to be pointing at is a mass of entertainment being supplied to the market, without a particular change in demand (OK, so demand is changing, people today demand more entertainment more of the time, and they want a variety of choice - but if you think about all the readily available video content, games, books and apps (is Tinder a game to you?)  there is a lot of new supply that didn't exist 5 years or more ago). Now, naturally this increased supply with a slower change in demand would seem to mean if a business wanted to secure any kind of market they would need to lower prices...

So, on the face of it you would assume cinemas are out of luck and must be struggling?

Some people would say this is true - maybe small cinemas are closing down. Other numbers seem to give a slightly different picture - yes, ticket sales are down, but at the same time aren’t you constantly hearing about a new movie becoming the highest grossing movie of all time? It’s because prices are continually rising.

Here are a couple of graphs showing similar stats but from different sources for movie ticket sales, and movie gross earnings from 1995 to 2014 (This is likely only based on US data, but it is hard to get a really accurate source for ticket number/revenues - but everywhere I looked seemed to paint a similar picture):

From Box Office Mojo 

From Box Office Mojo 

From The Numbers

From The Numbers

Both show the same thing - ticket numbers are basically flat (actually declining if you look at raw numbers, or put them on their own scale), while revenues are rocketing up. Box Office Mojo actually also shows the average ticket prices (just those two numbers divided by each other), and it tells the exact story I am trying to tell:

From Box Office Mojo

From Box Office Mojo

So that is showing from 1995 to 2014 prices increased from $4.35 to $8.17. So that’s an increase of 88% across 20 years, averaging about 3.5% a year.

Now, the obvious thought is that this doesn’t account for inflation - which might be true. But, accounting for inflation (based on some website I found), the inflationary increase would only have been 55%.

I’m not saying a business can’t charge what they want, and I have already mentioned some of the other costs cinemas face (which have had their own price increases as well), but…. well… actually I am not sure what my overall point here is other than £17 is a whole lot to pay for a movie when they make you sit through a bunch of advertising.

If I had to have a solution I guess it would be either

Don’t go to the movies (because public boycotts always work out)


Turn up after the ads (or go on a day when it is cheaper anyway)


Oh, and, the food prices are really high too. But I don’t really think people need to eat in a movie - it is two hours, I think we can live through it without the need to graze constantly.

Other factors probably forcing prices up - IMAX (Boooo) and 3D (Boooooooo) - gimmicks that don’t add anything to a movie, but “justify” increased prices. The next step is probably going to be VR, which will have plenty of its own problems…

Oh, and another thing - did you notice that those US movie prices seemed to show current ticket prices in the US are under $10? (this site seems to say the same) How is it that a movie in the UK can, at their cheapest, be £10? That isn't how exchange rates work. It is especially weird because these days movies can be digital - there is not need to ship out film reels from the USA, there is no need for a major cost involved to be distribution. Where is the mark-up between the US and the UK?

(Presumably minimum wage differences and other taxes - as US prices might exclude sales tax which varies state to state..)