Sunday, January 16, 2011

Why the movies are too expensive

Being school holidays, we've been doing a few outings / day trips / special activities that we wouldn't normally do. When I was the age my elder two daughters are now, summer holiday outings basically consisted of one visit to the Healesville Sanctuary per summer (I grew up not far from there), one or two family bowling outings to the local bowling alley, and probably five or six trips to the cinema to see a movie. My mother didn't go in much for big day trips or outings and the cinema, 10 minutes away, was a reasonable and reasonably priced option for amusing me for a few hours. She'd do trades with other local mums - often a duckling chain of five or six kids would be escorted by one mum or dad (or, in one memorably hilarious instance, an extremely entertaining young uncle, who also paid for us all to play video games in the arcade afterwards - SCORE!)

Later, when G and I started dating and then were newlywed DINKs, we used to go to the movies A LOT. Any Saturday afternoon or public holiday when we had nothing else planned, we'd trot along to the cinema, sometimes to see something specific, sometimes just on spec. We saw arthouse and independent films but also a heckuva lot of mainstream cinema. I'd estimate we saw 20-30 films at the cinema every year for the first 5 years of our relationship.

I was thinking about that the other day as I reflected on what we've done so far this holidays, and the activities yet to come. I realised that the kids have been to the cinema exactly once this summer (to see Megamind, with their Dad, on New Year's Day holiday), while G and I have been, together, once (to see TRON: Legacy in 3D). Before those two outings, the last film G and I saw at the cinema was Avatar, in January 2010, while the kids hadn't been to the cinema since - wow, I think it must have been Madagascar 2 in January 2009. (Edited to note: G just reminded me that I took the girls to see The Princess and the Frog in January 2010. Still a year ago though!)

Of course, our circumstances are very different now, with three very young children and much busier / more programmed weeks and weekends, and having one child who is much too young to sit through a movie, which necessitates tag-teaming or babysitting. Even given that, there are several movies that I'm sure we would have tried to see at the cinemas this summer (Tangled, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, and The King's Speech spring immediately to mind) and others too in previous holidays, but were put off by one main factor - the cost.

Daniel blogged about this recently, and I have to say I completely agree with him and his commenters. The movies, for a family, are an extremely high cost option for 2-3 hours' entertainment. Here's a cost comparison with three other activities / days out we've had this summer:

1. Family day out in city
Time elapsed: 6.5 hrs
Activities: Train trip into city, view Myer Christmas windows, lunch in town, Christmas browsing, walking the arcades and malls
Cost: Train / tram fares - $21; Morning snack at coffee shop - $15; Lunch at Nando's for 5 people - $50
Total: $86

2. Werribee Zoo outing
Time elapsed: 5 hrs
Activities: Zoo tour, walking, playing on playground, watching animal feedings, picnic lunch with friends
Cost: $7 for coffees for my friend & I; $32 entrance fee
Total: $39

3. Circus
Time elapsed: 3 hrs
Activities: Watching spectacular acrobatics that entertained whole family, including 22-month-old
Cost: $7 for popcorn and fairy floss; $65 admission
Total: $72

Compare these with the cinema. When G took the girls to see Magamind - so that's one adult and two children, rather than the whole family - it cost him as follows:

$22 = Food court lunch for them all before film
$13.50 x 2 kids = $27
$18.50 x 1 adult = $18.50
$19 = Large popcorn, 2 large drinks (to share), 2 choc tops for the kids
Total: $86.50

And that doesn't include the arcade games he paid for them to play after the film, but that was an optional extra, so I've left it off.

At $86.50 for three hours for only three members of our clan of 5, the movies comes out as $9.60 per person per hour, as opposed to $4.80 per person per hour for the circus, say, or the excellent value of $1.95 per person per hour of Werribee Zoo. Sure, we could have spent more at the Zoo if we had opted to buy our food there, but we had the choice not to, so we didn't.

The other thing, of course, is that, unlike the Zoo or the circus or a day spent in the city, the movie experience can at be at least partially replicated in greater comfort at home. We have a projector and a big screen, along with a great stereo surround-sound system, that means that almost all films except the truly visual-spectacular type are just as enjoyable to watch if not more so at home. Yes, we have to wait - although these days, not for long - for the DVD, but honestly, the combination of the hassle, the cost and the logistics of getting to the cinema makes that a small price to pay.

So, overall, in my opinion - movies = too expensive to be a regular family outing for us. There is an alternative, and there's not usually enough bang for buck.

What do you think?

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