Why Is Movie Theater Popcorn So Expensive?

Everyone loves going to the cinema, but you shouldn't have to be a movie star to be able to afford a bag of popcorn.

The markup on movie theater popcorn can be as much as 1,300% – it’s where cinemas make most of their profits.
The markup on movie theater popcorn can be as much as 1,300% – it’s where cinemas make most of their profits.

According to a report by ABC News, even a small bag of popcorn costs about $5.50 – which is more per ounce than filet mignon. Richard McKenzie, a University of California-Irvine professor who has investigated all things popcorn, says it costs about 10 cents an ounce to make popcorn, which equates to a markup of roughly 1,300 percent.

But there's a good reason for those seemingly ridiculous prices. Movie theaters don't profit much from the films they show, so they rely on concessions to pay the bills. "The theater can be paying 70 or more percent of the ticket price to the studios," McKenzie says. "Many theaters consider themselves in the concession business, not the movie business."

And they really are experts in the concession business. You might have noticed some of the tricks of the trade, such as filling the lobby with the aroma of buttered popcorn, or showing certain types of movies. According to Cornell University, sad movies prompt moviegoers to eat more popcorn than happy films.

Eye-popping facts about popcorn:

  • Nebraska leads U.S. states in popcorn production, popping out about 250 million pounds (114 million kg) per year.

  • For a brief time in 1949, popcorn was banned from movie theaters because it was deemed too loud.

  • When they're being popped, corn kernels can triple in size and jump about 3 feet (.9 m) in the air.

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    • The markup on movie theater popcorn can be as much as 1,300% – it’s where cinemas make most of their profits.
      By: Valerie Potapova
      The markup on movie theater popcorn can be as much as 1,300% – it’s where cinemas make most of their profits.