If Star Wars: The Phantom Menace cost more to make than Austin Powers 2: The Spy Who Shagged Me, why not charge people more to see it when both films open this summer?
The idea of a multitiered pricing system is being bandied around these days ever since Universal Pictures chief Edgar Bronfman Jr. mentioned it in a speech last year.
A spokesman for Bronfman claims the remark was only an "offhand reference in a fairly long speech" and that Bronfman merely said the current pricing system "is a pricing model which makes no sense, and I think the entire industry should consider revisiting it."
Nonetheless, Bronfman's comments hit a nerve: It was widely reported that he had proposed a plan to charge moviegoers higher prices for big-budget flicks and less for less costly ones, and the idea met with considerable controversy.
Bill Kartozian, president of the National Association of Theater Owners doesn't think it is doable.
"It's hard for me to understand how you would price a movie without knowing how the public accepts it," he said. "Who's going to make these decisions? Is it going to be based on the cost of a movie? We are selling a moviegoing experience. If we started bouncing around prices on them (the moviegoers), I think that would create a lot of unhappiness."
Director James Cameron also sees potential problems. "Now you're starting to create a class system," he said in the February Premiere. "Then it falls back to the '40s paradigm of the B system and the A system at the studio. Come back in five years, and all you're going to get is There's Something About Mary and The Waterboy."
That's one problem. Another is practicality.
"Think about logistically doing that," said AMC spokeswoman Brenda Nolte said. "Logistically, you would have to set up a different price for every movie in every theater."
Charles Slocum, director of special projects for the Writers Guild of America, thinks prices could be varied based on how long the movie has been out.
"The routine practice is to make many films available to dollar theaters, after their primary theatrical run, for a little-noticed, lower-priced extension to the theatrical release," he wrote in Written By magazine. "Building onto the front end is a natural idea."