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The High Cost of Match-Flicking
by Christopher Stone

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A plaque marks the site of the first Nickelodeon

A plaque marks the site of the first Nickelodeon
It's not unusual for a Match-Flicker to spend $30.-50. for a movie date. The high cost of Match-Flicking prevents many movie lovers and their main squeezes from enjoying as many Friday or Saturday nights at the movies as they might desire.

Hit especially hard by the high cost of Match-Flicking are teenagers who often don't have a job, not even a part-time gig, paying minimum wage. For these people, it's often a choice between, "Do we see LIVE FREE AND DIE HARD, or HAIRSPRAY? We'd love to see both, but we can't afford them.

A night at the movies wasn't always a pricey date. Once upon a time, way back when it all began, Match-Flicking was a bargain. Decades before mega-plexes, multiplexes, or even movie palaces, almost everyone could afford to take their sweetheart to a movie. Long ago, before "the audience was listening" - when there was no car to park, or phones to silence, the venue for Match-Flicking was the nickelodeon: a movie theater of one hundred years ago, charging an admission price of five cents.

The first nickelodeon, aptly named Nickelodeon, was opened by Messrs. Harry Davis and John Harris on Smithfield Street in Pittsburgh, PA, in June, 1905. Davis and Harris' small movie theater was a big success that was quickly imitated by hundreds of fledgling motion picture exhibitors in scores of
Rivoli, once an ornate neighborhood movie house

Rivoli, once an ornate neighborhood movie house
American cities.

By the 1920s, the nickelodeons had been replaced by elaborate downtown movie palaces and ornate neighborhood movie theaters. The term "flick," or "flicker" a synonym for movie, had been coined: the movie projectors of the day flickered as the images were projected on screen. The cost of admission had largely risen to ten cents by then, still a bargain by almost everyone's standards.

In the 1930's, America was in the midst of the Great Depression, and a nighttime movie date cost a couple thirty cents, twenty cents if the date was a matinee. Fifteen cents a person sounds like nothing to us, but many Depression Era Don Juans were hard pressed to find thirty cents to take their beloved out to Friday or Saturday night at the movies.

Motion pictures were still in their Golden Age as the 1940's began. The average ticket price for a first-run feature was thirty-five cents. In other words, you and your date could see FANTASIA and each enjoy a Coke for less than one dollar. Most movie theaters were still located in commercial areas of neighborhoods, as well as in the downtown sections of small towns and larger cities. Many Match-Flicking couples still walked to a movie house in their 'hood to see the latest Bette Davis, Cary Grant, or Betty Grable epic.

By the mid 1950's, the cost of
Hollywood's pricey Arclight Cinemas on Sunset

Hollywood's pricey Arclight Cinemas on Sunset
Match-Flicking had risen to reflect America's stunning post-war affluence. A three-tier admission policy dominated most first-run movie houses. Adult admission had skyrocketed to $1.25. Juniors (teenagers) paid seventy-five cents, while the 12 and under crowd could still buy a seat for a quarter. By now, one thing was clear and consistent: at the box office, admission prices only went in one direction, north (higher) they never traveled south (lower).

In subsequent decades, the cost of Match-Flicking continued its rise to new heights. Concession prices escalated along with the price of an admission ticket.

Once considered an industry taboo, a pricing threshold that Match-Flickers would refuse to cross, the $10 movie ticket became reality in 2001, in New York, and in Los Angeles. This price point quickly spread to a number of other U.S. cities, among them Boston and San Francisco.

At premium theaters, the high cost of Match-Flicking can exceed $10. One example is Hollywood's luxurious Arclight Cinemas complex, incorporating the historic Cinerama Dome Theatre, where General Admission is $14.00. Last December, ArcLight prices skyrocketed to $25.00 for the reserved-seat, pre-release engagement of DREAMGIRLS. As of now, exhibitors have yet to find the price threshold that Match-Flickers refuse to cross.

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The Business of Show
Every other Friday

Does advertising, public taste, or overindulged stars determine a movie's box office fate? Christoper Stone explores what's going on behind the box office.

Other Columns
Other columns by Christopher Stone:

The Cautionary Box-Office

Box-Office Holiday Season Heads Up. Part Two

Box-Office Holiday Season Heads Up, Part 1

Quality Is Independent

Oh, the Horror!

All Columns

Christopher Stone
Christopher Stone is the author of the international best seller Re-Creating Your Self. With Mary Sheldon, he co-authored three highly successful hardcover books of guided meditations.

He is a member of the Writers Guild of America, West.

If you have a comment, question, or suggestion, you can send a message to Christopher Stone by clicking here.

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