Widescreen: AMC's tiered pricing could prove to be a Slippery Slope+

  • AMC South Barrington is among the theaters that now have tiered seating prices in some auditoriums.

    AMC South Barrington is among the theaters that now have tiered seating prices in some auditoriums. Daily Herald file photo

Posted2/16/2023 11:43 AM

When I kept the social anxiety at bay long enough to see "Avatar: The Way of Water," I was greeted by loud, proud flatulence from the person sitting behind me. That was followed by a solid hour of yelling at the screen from the person four seats over from me. And finally, for the last 15 minutes, the incessant beeping of a watch alarm.

Truly, this was the immersive theatrical experience James Cameron had in mind.


This stuff happens to me all the time at the movies. I think I'm cursed. My sister says this is just the way it is.

And now "the way it is" at AMC theaters includes tiered seating prices in some auditoriums after 4 p.m.

For an example, let's look at Friday's 7 p.m. IMAX 3D showing of "Ant-Man and The Wasp: Quantumania" at AMC South Barrington. A standard adult seat will cost you $20.99. (Yes, you read that correctly.) If you want to sit in a seat with a "Preferred Sightline," which includes the 12 middle seats in the nine rows farthest from the screen, you'll pay $1 more. If you want to save $2 with a "Value Sightline," you'll have to sit in the front row (or, most frustratingly, just two of the 12 available handicapped accessible spots), and enjoy craning your neck for two hours.

Now this is an idea so terrible that one must assume Bob Chapek is CEO of the company. He's not, it's Adam Aron, formerly of the Philadelphia 76ers and Norwegian Cruise Lines. To quote James Goss of Barrington Research, from a Feb. 7 Variety article: "Nearly every industry that Adam Aron has worked in has had variable pricing. It's new to the movie business, but it's not new to Adam Aron."

Yes, it's just $1 more for the best seats. Yes, that dollar is waived if you are a part of the AMC Stubs A-List program for frequent customers. But this is just the beginning.

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In 1999, years before Chapek's brief reign at Disney, the theme parks introduced FastPasses to skip the lines for the biggest rides. They were free. Everyone got a crack at the first-come, first-serve system when they passed through the turnstiles.

Then 2013 brought FastPass+, which ditched paper tickets for an app-based reservation system. But the biggest difference: Walt Disney World customers staying at a Disney-owned hotel could book three FastPasses 60 days in advance. Everybody else got a 30-day heads-up. And if you walked into the park without knowing any of this, there's no way you would be skipping the line for Space Mountain -- all the FastPasses had been claimed at least a month ago.

Which brings us now to Genie+, first implemented under Chapek. Now you have to pay an extra fee per person, per day to get those three FastPasses -- er, Lightning Lanes, as they are now called -- and some rides require an extra fee on top of that! The guests willing to pay the most money get a better experience out of the same facilities all guests are using.

Class warfare has long been on display at the Most Magical Place on Earth, and now it's at your local movie theater on a much smaller scale. As "Lord of the Rings" star Elijah Wood tweeted on Feb. 6, "The movie theater is and always has been a sacred democratic space for all and this new initiative by @AMCTheatres would essentially penalize people for lower income and reward for higher income."

It's only a dollar now, but it's not hard to imagine a near-future in which going to opening night of the 500th "Avengers" movie is a far more expensive and complicated proposition. Hopefully they can at least do something about the farting, yelling and beeping by then.

• Sean Stangland is an assistant news editor who started re-watching all the "Transformers" movies this week for reasons yet to be fathomed.

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