Hey, buddy, want a $50 movie ticket?
So this was the deal: For $50 you got to see Brad Pitt's hotly anticipated zombie thriller, "World War Z," before all your friends. You also got 3-D glasses to keep, popcorn and sodas, a poster, the DVD when it comes out, and an intimate dinner with Brad.
Just kidding! No dinner with Brad.
But hundreds of fans did pay $50 for the other stuff earlier this month in a small-scale marketing experiment in five theaters -- in Houston, San Diego, Atlanta, Philadelphia and Irvine, Calif. The studio, Paramount Pictures, says it worked well. With recent talk about movie ticket prices climbing into the stratosphere, is it a harbinger of things to come?
Before you scoff, it's worth noting that premium pricing happens all the time: in Broadway theaters, where you could get second-row seats for Tom Hanks in "Lucky Guy" last week if you paid $300 a pop, or at concerts, where you could pay well over $1,000 for, say, a Rolling Stones VIP package.
Still, the idea of $50 for a movie strikes a lot of fans the wrong way.
"That's possibly the craziest thing I've ever heard," said Dillon Mahoney, 19, a student at the University of Pennsylvania, waiting in line last week for a regular "World War Z" showing.
In New York though, one fan did some quick calculating and saw a reasonable value. "With the DVD and all those other things you mention, it probably comes to more than $50," said Alex Leighton, 24, "so you're getting more than the movie." That's the point that Paramount wants to make.
"This ended up being a headline that didn't really represent what the offer was," says Megan Colligan, the studio's president of domestic distribution and marketing. "These people stepped up and made their commitment to us, and we gave them a great experience."
That experience included not merely seeing the film two days early and the free stuff; the "mega-ticket" buyers also got to bring friends along at regular price, and they got a party atmosphere, including a DJ and photo booths.
Colligan says that four of the theaters sold out -- they averaged 250 seats each -- and one was 80 percent full.
The special showings came just a few days after Hollywood heavyweights Steven Spielberg and George Lucas issued dire predictions about the future of movie prices, with Lucas estimating tickets could end up at "$50, maybe $100, maybe $150," and Spielberg predicting differentiated pricing according to a film's budget -- with the next "Iron Man" costing $25 perhaps, but the next "Lincoln" costing $7.