What Does a Trip to the Movies Really Cost You?


From the movie tickets to the large bucket of popcorn, watching a movie in a theater can be a pricey experience.

Unfortunately, that might not change anytime soon. As much as to 70 percent of your ticket price goes to movie studios and distributors. That means theater owners need to rely on concessions to stay afloat.

"I make money by selling concessions," Robert Bucksbaum, who owns The Reel Cinema in Wofford Heights, Calif., told ABC News' "20/20." "We still do pipe the smell of popcorn into the auditorium. … I've got an exhaust pipe that runs from the popcorn machine into the actual auditorium."

Speaking of popcorn, Bucksbaum said, concessions also carry a high mark up. For example, he said, the amount of popcorn it takes to fill a large bag can cost 8 cents to make. Bags by themselves can cost theaters 22 cents to 35 cents per bag, and a tub can range in cost from 85 cents to $1.

A theater may sell a large tub of popcorn for $8, Bucksbaum said. So if a tub-size container cost the theater, say, 92 cents, combined with the 8 cents for the kernels, that tub of popcorn could carry a 700 percent mark-up.

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A visit to the movies may not just hit you in the wallet. Germs might also be lurking where you sit.

"You have to be aware that the armrest, the seat and other areas of the theater are contaminated with the public that sat before you," New York University Professor of Microbiology Philip M. Tierno, Ph.D., told "20/20." "When you wear shorts or have open lesions in the skin, you might subject yourself to a risk of an infection."

"20/20? swabbed a few areas inside a bunch of theaters in New York and Los Angeles, collecting 17 samples in total, nine from New York City theaters and eight from L.A. theaters. Then, "20/20? asked Tierno to analyze the lab results.

On one seat in New York City, a sample showed evidence of bacteria usually found in cattle and soil. Other samples turned up bacteria commonly found in human feces and even yeast.

"We found the yeast in two armrests," Tierno said. "They were grossly contaminated with yeast."

According to Bucksbaum, there are no laws stating how often theaters have to clean the seats. But, Tierno said, there are things you can do to avoid getting sick.

"One of the things, when I'm eating popcorn, is not to touch the seats with your right hand," he said. "If you're going to hit the armrest, keep your hand in the air. … Always have a 'good hand' and a 'bad hand.'"