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US movie theaters seek to fill seats with $3 tickets

Operators of movie theatres in the US hope 1980s-era prices will lure fans, help promote their upcoming features

With disappointing releases, OTTs and growing inflation, halls have been emptier than ever

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 Following some of worst box office weekends of the year, thousands of movie theaters are banding together to offer $3 tickets, a price not seen since the early 1980s.

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With few new releases on tap, the Cinema Foundation is organizing National Cinema Day on Sept. 3, hoping the lure of “inflation relief” will draw audiences back to the big screen for blockbusters like Top Gun: Maverick and the Imax big-screen experience, which is also being priced at $3. Re-releases of Spider-Man: No Way Home and the 1975 blockbuster Jaws are planned as well.

Theater owners see a chance to boost attendance over the typically slow Labor Day weekend. Ticket sales have stalled in August, with revenue on some weekends falling from a year ago in the absence of big new releases. One operator, Regal owner Cineworld Group Plc, has been considering a bankruptcy filing in the US.

“Movie theaters are struggling with the ongoing gap in blockbuster releases, and cash burn is once again a concern.”

The winner of the weekend is expected to be Honk for Jesus. Save Your Soul, according to Paul Dergarabedian, Comscore Inc.’s senior analyst. The comedy from Focus Features, which stars Regina Hall and Sterling K. Brown, is expected to open in 1,800 theaters. The $3 price is the lowest since theaters charged an average $2.94 in 1982, according to the National Association of Theatre Owners.

“It’s tough to say right now how much impact the promotion will have on weekend results,” said Shawn Robbins, chief analyst at Boxoffice.com, the official publication of the theater association. He calls the weekend a tossup, saying Spider-Man, Top Gun and even Jaws has a chance to lead the box office. Some art house chains declined to participate, according to Deadline.

So far, advance sales appear slow. As of midday Monday, an AMC theater in the Century City neighborhood of Los Angeles had a sold just four seats each to early evening showings of Dragon Ball Super: Super Hero and “The Invitation,” the No. 1 movies in the US over the past two weekends. 

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