For the record, Avengers: Age of Ultron isn't half bad. It is waaaay better than its prequel but, let's face it, Earth's mightiest heroes can fight back better than aliens, and they're also critic-proof.
Powering its way to $191 million in opening domestic weekend box office receipts (the second biggest in history), there is only one valid question regarding the Avengers sequel: Is it worth the price of full admission?
Having shelled out $12 for the 3-D version to the good folks at the first-run cinema at The Village at Meridian, my heart went out to the scores of parents, with a parade of kids in tow, marching their way into the theater. I could only imagine what their credit card bills will look like, especially as they tacked on $5.75 for a small popcorn and $4.50 for a small drink, multiplied by however many people in their party.
I wandered up to The Village's so-called 21-and-older VIP section ($14 for admission) to see a snack bar menu that included burger and fries ($12), calamari ($10), bruschetta ($8), selected beers ($4-$7) and wines ($6-$7), cheesecake ($6) and strudel ($6). The only thing missing at the adult-only concession stand was Lipitor.
Goodies aside (and good luck steering a kid past the snack bar), the debate at hand is how much of our disposable incomes are we willing to spend for a movie. In my own private Idaho (and trust me, the chance of this ever happening is slim), moviegoers would never pay admission before the film starts. Instead, at the end of the film, audiences would be asked to pay what they thought seeing it was worth.
"I tell people that if a movie is worth $10 or more once, it's worth seeing twice," said Mike Lehosit. "And they'll come to my cinema to see it that second time. If that movie isn't worth $10 at the first-run cinema, maybe they should wait a little while and see it at my place a few weeks later."
Lehosit should know something about discount movie pricing. It's in his DNA.
"My family has owned theaters since the 1970s and in all that time, we've never charged more than $3 for a movie," he told Boise Weekly. "My mom was a school teacher and dad owned a movie theater, so I went to college for a teaching degree, and I did both. I've owned the Overland Park 1-2-3 in Boise for 12 years now."
Lehosit retired from teaching math at North Junior High in Boise three years ago to dedicate his full-time attention to the Overland Road cinema and has recently taken over another movie theater in the Idaho panhandle community of Hayden.
"Our admissions are $3 and $2 for kids, students and seniors. It's $1 on Tuesdays. And we've got a pretty good deal where $5 will get you a ticket, small popcorn and a small drink," Lehosit said.
Less than two miles from Lehosit's Boise cinema is a similar business also on Overland: the Country Club Reel Theatre. The Country Club is owned by the Reel Theatre group, which operates other discount movie houses, such as the Northgate Reel Theatre on State Street in Boise, and the Nampa Reel Theatre on Caldwell Boulevard in Canyon County. Operators at the discount theaters say they've experienced an uptick in audience-counts, no doubt due to runaway prices at first-run movie theaters. The Reel Theatres also charge $3 at the box office, $1 on Tuesdays and $1 for weekend midnight shows. This summer, the Reel Theatres will offer 10 a.m. family-friendly films for 50 cents for both adults and kids.
"Honestly, I don't think the studios are making as many family-friendly movies as they used to," said Lehosit. "And those movies do really well for us. We're anxiously waiting for Cinderella."
Lehosit is talking about the Disney Studio's 2015 successful reboot of the glass slipper classic, which is still raking in full-price admissions ($10 for adults, $8 for kids) at the Edwards Boise Stadium 21, just down the road from the Overland 1-2-3 and the Country Club Reel Theatre.
"Every Monday morning, I phone the movie studios to see which films will be released from the first-run theaters," he said. "Most of the time, I can snap them up by that Friday, but because those chains have been building so many first-run theaters, they have more screens to show their movies. As a result, they're holding on to those movies longer at the higher prices."
So, don't expect to see Avengers: Age of Ultron at a discount theater anytime soon.
I asked Lehosit how he is able keep the lights on at his discount cinema while charging the same prices today as his family charged decades ago.
"It's simple: We have to put more people in the seats," he said. "Who am I kidding? It's not simple. Yes, business picks up in the summertime, but it's really all about the quality of movies. Good movies? Good business."
The ex-math teacher added one more thing to the equation.
"You have to love it, and when we get Cinderella, I'll be loving it a little more," Lehosit said.
Once more for the record, Cinderella is a swell film. But she's critic-proof, too.