The cinema is defined by excess: large screen, large speakers, and large food. Massive sodas, tubs of popcorn, and enough candy to keep you awake during the screening of the entire Star Wars and Lord of the Rings sagas are available. Did you know why Joshua Thompson sued a movie theater in Michigan?
Joshua Thompson filed a lawsuit against a Michigan AMC movie theater over the high cost of concession snacks. He claims he used to bring his snacks until the theater prohibited them. Thompson paid $8 for a soda and packet of Goobers, but he could get the same items for less than $3 at a nearby drug store.
The Enormous Mark-Up
With snacks being so crucial to a movie theater’s profits, it’s no surprise that the markup can be jarring. An $8 popcorn may only cost 90 cents in materials, yielding an impressive 800 percent Return on Investment (ROI); a $6 soda may cost less than $1 in syrup, water, and cups, yielding a 600 percent return. It’s no surprise they can afford to provide free refills. (Source: Mental Floss)
Did You Know The First Movie Theaters Banned Snacks?
When some of the first films began to appear on screens in the 1920s, cinemas had a common policy: no food was permitted. Managers of movie theaters saw their business as similar to that of a live theater, with a slightly reverent atmosphere. Smacking and slurping were frowned upon. Worse, popcorn and other snacks would spill and ruin their ornate carpeted floors. However, as silent films gave way to talkies, and a consistent sound could help muffle chewing, many theaters relaxed their restrictions. (Source: Mental Floss)
Who Initially Sold Movie Theater Snacks?
While talkies may have had more relaxed attitudes toward theater food, cinemas were still not equipped to serve various snacks. It was easier for the owners to make arrangements with the popcorn street vendors, who were usually lingering outside and handing out bags of fresh popcorn to arriving attendees. The theater charged a daily fee, and popcorn vendors could sell to both ticket holders and passersby. Theater owners also permitted candy vending machines to be installed in their lobbies.
Managers eventually learned their lesson and purchased their popcorn machines. Best of all, the delicious aroma of the popcorn permeated movie theater lobbies, making it the ideal sales tool. (Source: Mental Floss)
The Great Depression Saviors
During the Great Depression, there were fewer and fewer people with disposable income for entertainment, and many theaters went out of business. However, movie theaters that began serving snacks seemed to hold on. Popcorn was cheap enough for moviegoers at 10 cents a bag, and the profits from snacks helped keep the owners afloat. Milk Duds, another inexpensive treat introduced in 1926, were only 5 cents. Customers soon thought movies and snacking were a good combination. By 1945, theaters accounted for 40% of all popcorn consumed in the United States. It became the de facto snack with sugar rations during World War Two. (Source: Mental Floss)
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