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Why Film Tickets Are Solely $3 This Weekend at Many U.S. Theaters

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If you want to catch the summer’s hottest blockbusters — or, more importantly, cool off in complimentary air conditioning — you’re in luck: A one-day deal for $3 movie tickets is coming to a theater near you this Labor Day weekend.

The ticket deal is part of a National Cinema Day promotion announced Sunday by the Cinema Foundation, a new nonprofit branch of the National Association of Theater Owners. Aiming to boost moviegoing in the streaming era, it allows moviegoers to enjoy discounted admission capped at $3 on Saturday, Sept. 3, at more than 3,000 participating theaters.

And, yes, major franchises like AMC and Regal Cinemas are included.

“We wanted to do something to celebrate moviegoing,” Cinema Foundation President Jackie Brenneman said in a news release. “We’re doing it by offering a ‘thank you’ to the moviegoers that made this summer happen, and by offering an extra enticement for those who haven’t made it back yet.”

The $3 movie ticket promotion makes for a cheap weekend of entertainment for Americans, many of whom have been sacrificing recreation budgets to make ends meet amid sky-high inflation. Check the National Cinema Day site for details.

The pandemic struggle for movie theaters

The COVID-19 pandemic, coupled with the rise of in-home streaming, has hit movie theaters particularly hard. Gross domestic box office revenue dropped to a 40-year low of about $2.2 billion in 2020 — a dramatic 81.4% dip from the previous year’s $11.32 billion, according to data from Box Office Mojo, a site that tracks box-office revenue.

For theaters small and large, the casualties have been many: Bloomberg tallied 630 locally owned and franchise theaters alike that were still closed as of December 2021 with no certain reopening date. The results of a Gallup poll from January found that 61% of Americans surveyed did not visit a movie theater at all in 2021.

In another major blow to the entertainment business, the Wall Street Journal reported last week that Cineworld, the industry’s second-largest theater operator and the owner of Regal Cinemas, announced it may file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in the U.S. amid a tidal wave of debts. (That doesn’t mean it’s the end — Chapter 11 bankruptcy allows companies to reorganize, retain in possession of assets, continue operating and borrow new money with court approval — but it’s not a great sign.)

And while the movie theater industry has made steady gains in 2022 with box office hits like Top Gun: Maverick and Jurassic World Dominion, the numbers are still a far cry from pre-pandemic years. Analysts told The Hollywood Reporter that domestic box office revenue might break $7.5 billion this year, which would only total about 70% of the revenues recorded in 2019.

What’s happening with movie ticket prices

The average cost of a movie ticket has more than doubled in recent years, going from $4.35 in 1995 to $9.17 today, according to an analysis by TheNumbers.com, an online database providing movie industry financial analysis.

Ticket prices have flattened out over the past few years as movie theaters across the country struggled to stay open. In 2018, the average ticket cost about $9.11. Since 2020, the average ticket price has remained constant at $9.17.

Though the steeply discounted tickets are expected to lure consumers to theaters on Saturday, the long-term recovery of in-person movie viewing is uncertain. The most popular in-home streaming services run about $5.99 a month for basic plans to roughly $79.99 a month for premium packages with live TV, so it’s not surprising that consumers are increasingly opting to stay in their living rooms with countless viewing options (not to mention the option to hit pause for bathroom breaks).

At any rate, at $3 max per ticket, the National Cinema Day promotion is a steal you’re not likely to see again for some time. The last time movie tickets were close to $3, according to data from the theater owners’ association, was around 1982.

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