Movie tickets can get quite expensive these days, particularly on the opening weekend for a major release where prices can go upwards of Rs. 1,000 per ticket, depending on the theatre and format. Anyone who made a recent effort to buy tickets and attend the great ‘Barbenheimer’ event of 2023 will know just how much of a hit on the pocket it would have been, particularly if you watched Oppenheimer in an IMAX theatre, and that’s before you consider the price of popcorn or any other snacks.
The high costs are typically associated with the big theatre chains, and plenty of affordable theatres exist in every major city in India. There’s really no pressure on you to pay big bucks for movie tickets if you don’t want to, and I decided to give both options a try while watching Barbie and Oppenheimer over two weekends. Interestingly enough, I found that perhaps paying more is worth it after all – let me explain why.
Barbie in an affordable theatre
I started with Barbie, and chose an old, but somewhat modernised multi-screen theatre in Mumbai to go watch Greta Gerwig’s film in. The modernisation has come by way of turning the formerly single-screen theatre into a three-screen multiplex with improved decor. There was also a hint of nostalgia here, since the snack counter is the same as it has been since my college days, serving the same sandwiches and popcorn at fairly reasonable prices.
However, where this theatre hasn’t quite kept up with the times is in the lack of upgrades to things like the projector, screen size, and seating. The chairs were somewhat uncomfortable even for a two-hour movie, the screen was arguably tiny and no better (in comparative terms) than watching a film in a large living room on a 43-inch television. The projector was dull, lacking in sharpness, and made for a rather underwhelming watching experience. It wasn’t bad and the film was watchable, but I was somewhat disappointed with the experience on the whole.
Many might not care too much about these technical drawbacks; you are there for the film itself, and the reasonably-priced tickets and snacks definitely help in making the hours you spend there a bit nicer. This entire experience cost me Rs. 270 for the ticket and about Rs. 300 for a good amount of snacks per person, on a Friday night.
Oppenheimer in an IMAX theatre
Watching Oppenheimer ‘as Christopher Nolan intended it’ has been a key buzz-phrase leaning into the release of the film, and indeed Universal Pictures has pulled out all the stops in ensuring the film is available to watch in IMAX screens in India and globally. Gautam Dutta, Co-CEO at PVR Inox Ltd. said, “A film like Oppenheimer is best watched on IMAX screens for the vibrant and immersive experience, which only gets better at a certain angle: the director’s preferred seats.”
I watched the film in one of the handful of IMAX screens in Mumbai, arguably the best one in the city after the closing of the iconic IMAX dome theatre in Wadala, Mumbai. This is a modern multiplex with modernised big screens (including the massive IMAX screen where I watched the film), laser projection, and comfortable seating.
Varying height levels of the seats ensure that the people in front of you aren’t blocking your view, and assuming you aren’t sitting too close to the screen, you don’t even have to crane your neck to watch. Additionally, the viewing experience is practically as good at the sides of the theatre as in the centre. Needless to say, the technical experience of watching the film was far superior to the older tech in the theatre where I watched Barbie.
However, this technically superior viewing experience is significantly reflected in the ticket prices. Priced at upwards of Rs. 1,000 per ticket for a Saturday morning show, this can go a fair bit higher (around Rs. 1,400 per ticket) if you try to book the more popular evening shows. For reference, a whole month of Netflix Premium costs less than one ticket.
Snacks cost a fair bit more as well; popcorn was priced at Rs. 510 for a big tub, and I still needed to eat lunch afterwards. There’s really no reason for the price of snacks to be this high, but it’s all part of the ‘premium’ experience, and also links to the fact that you don’t really have a choice if you want to get something to eat or drink during the intermission.
Pay more for the better experience
After both of these contrasting theatre experiences, I can’t help but feel that it’s worth paying more for the better experience. As a fan of streaming and a TV reviewer for Gadgets360, I usually have access to big televisions and excellent content to watch on them, so the theatre-going experience is usually reserved for only the most important releases, where watching it early and on the big screen make all the difference.
The IMAX experience costs multiple times as much as that of the old-school theatre (especially if you factor in the cost of food and drinks), but the superior technical offerings justify the price, in my opinion. If you’re someone who visits a theatre once a week, those costs might stack up quickly. However, if you’re an occasional theatre-goer, my recommendation is that you pick the better theatre, choose IMAX whenever possible, and splurge a bit to get the best experience. If you really want to save money, give the overpriced popcorn a miss instead.