Would you pay £40 to go to the cinema?
Rising cinema prices is not a new concern – least of all in the West End of London, where it is standard to pay the equivalent of a mid-priced restaurant meal to see the blockbuster of the week (add popcorn at your peril). But Odeon Leicester Square, back in action after an extensive refurbishment that – crucially – reduced the number of seats in its main auditorium, has taken bold new steps in testing the commitment of cinemagoers.
A single ticket to Mary Poppins Returns (pictured) could set you back as much as £40.75. With a favourable budget airline ticket, you could pay less to fly to Barcelona and see the film there. Odeon was quick to point out that this is the top end of a pricing system that varies depending on the time, the day and the seat. Settle for the “Luxe Classic” (as opposed to the “Luxe Recliner” – everything is luxe at Odeon, you see) in the back row for a matinee show and you can experience its souped-up sound and vision for £10.75.
This is still not exactly a bargain, but Odeon argues “it offers fantastic value compared to tickets for other popular destinations like the theatre, concerts or live sports”. Which is all very well, except that projecting a film on to a screen is not equivalent to live entertainment, either as an experience or as a feat of labour – however luxe the seat. At a time when chains such as Odeon and Vue are battling alluringly cheap and convenient streaming services to retain their audiences, is any film really worth £40?
I have paid more to see some very forgettable plays and a comparative pittance for cinema experiences that will stay with me for ever, from Alfonso Cuarón’s dizzily space-shifting Gravity in 3D to a lustrously restored Lawrence of Arabia. If you are confident that Mary Poppins Returns will blow your mind to that extent, go forth and recline. But let’s not pretend the luxury cinema movement has been forged to advance the art of cinema. Truly great films change your life at any price.