When I last checked in with my buddy Adam Aron, in late December, the C.E.O. of AMC Theaters was unloading millions of dollars in meme-inflated stock before its inevitable decline. The AMC share price is now down to about $18 from $27 on Dec. 23, when I dubbed him the “Villain of the Year” for his antics. It’s off 75 percent from its $72 high in mid-2021, when retail investors that call themselves the “AMC Apes” decided to push the company far beyond the grim business fundamentals of movie theaters in the Streaming Age.
That perilous position is at the center of Aron’s latest move, adding about a dollar to the ticket price of Warner Bros.’ The Batman during its first eight days in AMC venues. Theaters have long charged different prices at different times, from weekend surcharges to cheaper matinees and, your elderly neighbor’s favorite, “discount Tuesdays.” And premium experiences like IMAX cost more. But this is an upcharge for a specific film, a demand-based judgment that Batman is worth more to a moviegoer than, say, an Oscar contender or whatever that Channing Tatum dog thing is. That’s both obvious and relatively unique, although Aron has tested this idea in the past. While AMC has said that Batman is a one-film experiment, Aron told the Apes on an earnings call on Tuesday that there’s “considerable upside opportunity ahead if we continue to be imaginative” on pricing.
Aron didn’t want to talk to me publicly, nor would Warners domestic distribution chief Jeff Goldstein, or executives at other studios, who, I’m told, had no idea this move was coming. (Theaters, not studios, set prices, and everyone is terrified of violating antitrust and regulatory rules by discussing policy plans.) The other leading U.S. theater chains, Cinemark and Regal, haven’t announced similar moves, yet a quick glance at the Regal website suggests it is following AMC’s lead. If this works, and the chains don’t scare away price-sensitive customers, or lose market share to venues without the upcharge, all signs are that this is the beginning of a new era for movies.