If you thought it was getting more expensive to go the movies, your hunch was right.
The average ticket price at theaters in the U.S. last year rose to an all-time annual high of $7.89, up 5% from $7.50 in 2009, according to the National Assn. of Theatre Owners. In the fourth quarter, the average price was $8.01, up 5% from the year-ago period.
That may seem unusually low to people in L.A., where ticket prices are typically much higher, but the figure represents a national average of theaters in big cities and small towns alike and includes lower-priced matinees and children's prices.
NATO spokesman Patrick Corcoran attributed the increase primarily to the rise in 3-D screenings, which can add $2.50 to $4 to the ticket price. Hollywood is expected to release about 35 3-D films this year, and theater owners are moving rapidly to increase the number of 3-D screens to handle the growth. This week Regal Entertainment, the nation's largest theater operator, announced that it would double its number of RealD 3-D screens.
All of which means ticket prices are likely to continue to rise. One AMC Theatres location in New York last summer raised eyebrows by selling $20 tickets for Imax 3-D screenings of the DreamWorks Animation movie "Shrek Forever After."
The rise in ticket prices came in a year when box office sales were virtually flat compared with the prior year, at $10.6 billion. Attendance dropped 5.3% compared with 2009.
Still, Corcoran downplayed the effect of ticket inflation on attendance, noting that the 2010 increase is "not way out of line" with those of the last five years and that prices are still below what they were in 1970 when inflation is factored in. Then, the average ticket price was $1.55, or $8.71 when adjusted for inflation.
Corcoran attributed the drop in attendance to fewer movies being released and fewer hits in the latter part of the year.
"People aren't staying away because of ticket prices," Corcoran said. "They are staying away because of the movies."