When I first moved to New York City, I was shocked to find out there are no bargain matinees at movie theaters in Manhattan. For a young man starting college and having neither income nor allowance this was a horrible turn of events. Back in Connecticut, I was working at a multiplex and seeing movies for free. Now, not only did I have to pay for them, I had to always pay full price. And considering full price was even higher than back home, I needed to find work.
Eventually I got a job at an art house theater downtown. Soon, I realized one of the reasons the city might not have discounts in the daytime. People went to the movies in the late morning and the afternoon! A lot of people, in fact. I somewhat remember being told the main reason for the lack of bargain matinees is the higher rents and/or taxes in Manhattan, but I figured the substantial amount of daily moviegoers could have also been a factor. While it seems fine economically to offer a price cut in the suburbs, where fewer people are able to attend those matinee shows, it makes sense economically to charge full price in the city that doesn't sleep, where a good percentage of the population doesn't operate on a 9 to 5 work schedule.
It's kind of like how movie theaters do away with the bargain matinees on holidays (such as President's Day), when most people are off from work and have the opportunity to go to the movies during the day. I always found it funny that while many businesses have sales or other special deals on holiday weekends, the cinemas do the opposite. But we've all long accepted the fact that the movie business is unlike other businesses and tends to exploit circumstances in which it can get more money out of its customers. Of course, I never did understand why on Saturdays the theaters offer the same matinee discounts for the same amount of shows as they do on weekdays. Certainly they could get away with the same practice they follow on Sundays and holidays, in which only the first show is available for the bargain price.
It's been a long time since I worked a New York City cinema box office and paid attention to the daily attendances. I therefore had somewhat forgotten about the huge amounts of daytime moviegoers in Manhattan and the chance that those people help keep the matinee prices up. Then, last Monday I was uptown at Lincoln Center for a couple press screenings, and on my way out, I spotted an extremely long line of people waiting to get into the theater for a little-known Russian film from 1947. Titled Russkiy vopros (The Russian Question), it was selection of the Film Society of Lincoln Center's just-ended program "Envisioning Russia: A Century of Filmmaking." Though I knew that such film series were popular, I never would have guess they were so popular on an early weekday afternoon.
Suddenly I recalled that documentary from a few years ago, Cinemania, which deals with intense New York cinephiles (that's a still from the film above). But that film only really focused on five serious moviegoers, each of who spends every day seeing as many movies as they can throughout the city. How many people like that could there possibly be? Well, it's definitely a good city to have such a life. In addition to all the multiplexes showing all of the new movies, those in wide and limited release, as well as a number of art houses showing self-distributed independent films, there are plenty of museums, non-profit cinemas and specialty film centers running special series, retrospectives, and other programs of old films and/or never-before-available foreign films.
[Speaking of special programs in NYC, check out this article in today's New York Times, about a six-year-old Thursday night camp classic series. I love the part about the irate man who didn't appreciate the crowd laughing at Sirk's Imitation of Life.]
This is the kind of place where even if you have a 9 to 5 job, you want to take a long break or a personal day in order to catch that rare or once-in-a-lifetime screening of an obscure or favorite title. It's no wonder none of the theaters want to offer moviegoers a discount. These opportunities are so attractive that people won't necessarily pass them up just because the ticket price is so steep.
Anyway, I thought differently about my long time theory about Manhattan matinees this past Friday, when I attended an early show at my local multiplex in Brooklyn. I noticed that both the noon showings of Jumper, which was in its second day of release, and There Will Be Blood, which has been out for awhile yet is also hot right now because of next weekend's Academy Awards, played to packed auditoriums. Yes, it was pretty darn early, but Brooklyn, like Manhattan, is full of residents who don't live on a 9 to 5 work schedule. So, it wasn't that surprising to see so many moviegoers at this time. However, Brooklyn theaters, unlike Manhattan's, do offer bargain matinee prices.
Maybe it is all about the rent in Manhattan, then, after all. Because Brooklyn theaters could also exploit the heavy matinee business and do away with discounts themselves. Of course, I hope they don't suddenly realize the benefit of doing so. I'm glad to live in a place that still offers matinee discounts. As much as I'm also glad to live just across the river from a borough that has so much variety and selection, I can't imagine ever again going to a matinee showing of a new movie there.