The Publicist: Concessions give cineplexes some more food for thought

The percentage of movie box office allocated to exhibitors usually goes up each week a film plays. Opening week may funnel only 40% of ticket sales to the theater, with 60% going to the distributor, but by week eight, those numbers will have swapped. In the crowded summer movie season, with new films shoving away the previous week's releases like carnival bumper cars, the chances of a picture playing for three months is unlikely.

The percentage of movie box office allocated to exhibitors usually goes up each week a film plays. Opening week may funnel only 40% of ticket sales to the theater, with 60% going to the distributor, but by week eight, those numbers will have swapped. In the crowded summer movie season, with new films shoving away the previous week's releases like carnival bumper cars, the chances of a picture playing for three months is unlikely.

Which is why a medium popcorn, soda, and M&Ms will cost you more than admission.

No doubt, theaters rely heavily on concession income. They'd rather you sneak into the theater - and buy snacks - than pay for a ticket and smuggle in your chocolate-covered cashews. (They're awesome.) Indeed, preventing folks from bringing in their own food is job one for ticket takers - and they're trained to kill.

At last week's ShoWest convention - the annual Vegas gathering of theaters and exhibitors - new lines of movie treats were displayed in an array of colors, tastes, and textures. Theaters now offer almost every conceivable food: pizza, burgers, sushi, milk shakes, designer pretzels, you name it. Enticing food displays are as crucial to cineplexes as windows are to shopping-mall stores. Once in the theater, nobody leaves hungry. If they can leave at all - my feet were comically stuck to the floor at a film last week, victims of a wicked soda-bubblegum combo spilled by the kids behind us.

But popcorn is still king of the cinema. It's the cash cow of concessions.

Which got me wondering: The Passion of the Christ is on its way to a worldwide billion dollar box-office, but are the theaters selling any profitable popcorn? I made a few calls to the PR offices of the Regal and Mann theater chains, but, being in the communication business, they didn't call back.

So I wandered down to the local theater where Passion is playing and inquired of a nice lady behind the counter.

"Audiences buy some popcorn and sodas, but not as much as for an average movie," she says, "and almost nobody comes out once it starts. Sometimes a parent comes out of the theater with a crying kid and buys candy to cheer them up."

Though Hellboy's opening weekend portends smaller box office than hoped, theater owners still have sympathy for the devil: The film's demographic, young adult males, has a passion for junk food and descends on concession stands like a biblical horde of locusts.

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