the cost of going to the movies back then and right now

Es­ti­mated reading time is 6 min­utes.

A WHILE AGO, I re­sponded to a post on my Face­book thread about going the movies these days, in­cluding the price of tickets and con­ces­sions, ex­ces­sive sound sys­tems, rude viewers, etc. I am now a se­nior, so the price of tickets seem too high, and I haven’t shelled out a cent for ob­scenely over­priced candy, pop­corn, and soft-drinks in decades! But I re­member “back then,” when I was a kid and things were a lot different.

I re­member going to the­aters in Penn­syl­vania when I was kid; they were old venues, built back in the ’30s. They had class (sorely lacking in the giant cinaplexes) and the seats were more com­fort­able. Our fa­vorites were the Forty Fort The­ater in Forty Fort and the Roo­sevelt in Swoyersville.

We oc­ca­sion­ally hit the places in Luzerne and Wyoming but Mom con­sid­ered Pittston or to the Hart and Shawnee the­aters in Wilkes-Barre to be too long a drive to leave her kids. 1


Mommy would give us a quarter each and drop us off at the movies at 10:30 AM and not have to worry about us until dinner time seven hours later!


My mother used to drop me and my brother Charlie and our best friend Donnie Flynn off at one of many of these old the­aters at 11:00 AM every Sat­urday morning.

She gave us each a quarter (that’s all folks, a mere 25¢) and then she went back home, knowing she had the rest of the day to herself.

Back in the early ’60s, those the­aters charged 15¢ for ad­mis­sion to their Sat­urday mati­nees. What could we pos­sibly do with the re­maining 10¢? Boxes of candy—and they were rel­a­tively BIG boxes—such as Black Crows, Milk Duds, Ju­nior Mints, Ju­jubes, Dots, and the filling-remover, Bonomo Turkish Taffy were 5¢ each.

The 15¢ ad­mis­sion was a re­flec­tion of better times and quickly jumped up to 25¢, al­though the cost of candy re­mained rea­son­ably stable until 1968 or so. This still meant that Mom had to fork over a couple of extra dimes each week!


Back Then: poster for the 1956 movie EARTH VS. THE FLYING SAUCERS.

The movies we watched back then

These mati­nees usu­ally in­cluded two feature-length films: the main fea­tures played first and third, sand­wiching the second-billed movie. The main fea­ture might have been an ‘old’ Jerry Lewis or Elvis movie, while the B-movie could have been just about anything.

Im­mensely pop­ular was double-bills of old sci­ence fic­tion movies (al­most all from the ’50s be­cause they re­ally didn’t make to many sf movies in the ’30s and ’40s), and mon­ster movies. With the latter, it was not pos­sible to show classic ti­tles from the Golden Age of Mon­ster Movies, the 1930s. We watched Boris Karloff and Bela Lu­gosi and Lon Ch­eney over and over.

The Hammer horror movies that came out of Eng­land in the ’50s were also big, as they were more ‘re­al­istic.’ So it was that we got to know Christo­pher Lee and Peter Cushing. In the States, Roger Corman and Amer­ican In­ter­na­tional Pic­tures made Vin­cent Price a house­hold name—at least to we kids

Fe­male ac­tresses had very little to do with these genres: in mon­ster and horror movies they were al­most al­ways the victim of the monster/ In sci­ence fic­tion, they were ei­ther the victim or the girl­friend of the hero who saves Earth from the alien things.


Back Then: poster for the 1958 movie THE 7TH VOYAGE OF SINBAD.

The extras we watched back then

Each double-feature opened and closed with car­toons, mostly classic Warner Brothers shorts by such great di­rec­tors as Fred “Tex” Avery, Bob Clam­pett, Fritz Fre­leng, and Chuck Jones.

There were also tons of trailers for movies that would be ap­pearing in the fu­ture. They would come on the screen in the order in which they would be coming to the the­ater, from “Coming soon” (next week?) to simply “Coming” (next month? this year?).

To fill in the time—and most of us kids stayed until dinner time, which was often 6:00 PM, so there was seven hours of screen time—many of these the­aters showed old se­rials (no­tably Buck Rogers with Buster Crabbe) and even old Movi­etone News news­reels (I don’t know how many times I watched Ger­many in­vade Poland).


Back Then: poster for the 1961 movie THE CURSE OF THE WEREWOLF.

Going to the movies today

With other things going, so is my hearing. But I still find my­self the to­day’s movie sound­tracks and the the­ater sound sys­tems to be un­nec­es­sarily loud! Who has not been to a cinaplex and heard movies so loud that they bleed through the walls from the the­ater next door?

As for ticket prices: some people make the ar­gu­ment that they haven’t gone up when ad­justed for real-life in­fla­tion. Agreed, but that does not take into ac­count the fact that wages for real-life workers have not fol­lowed that line of in­fla­tion. That is, workers may be paid more now than they were then, but due to in­fla­tion, it buys them less now than it did then.


In the early ’70s, I could take a girl to the movies, stop at a bar for a couple of drinks, and tip the bar­tender for less than $10!


In the early ’70s, I could take a girl on a date that in­cluded going to the movies and having pop­corn, stop­ping at a bar af­ter­wards for a couple of drinks (that’s two well drinks for each of us), and tip the bar­tender all for less than $10! That was five hours of work at min­imum wage minus taxes.

Such a date today would cost ap­prox­i­mately $60-80 (prices vary from state to state and re­gion to re­gion), or the equiv­a­lent of at least ten hours of work at min­imum wage minus taxes. Like al­most every­thing else that af­fects our daily lives—except com­puters, of course—almost every­thing has in­flated at a much greater rate then what most of us are paid for our jobs. 2


Back Then: poster for 1963 movie THE NUTTY PROFESSOR.

Going to a matinee today

For­tu­nately, there are still matinee movies avail­able throughout the United States. Ac­cording to the Regal Cin­emas web­site, ticket prices for mati­nees are:

Chil­dren: $10.00-13.00
Adults: $11.50-13.00
Se­niors: $10.00-13.00

You want to do the math on the in­fla­tion? Using the 25¢ ad­mis­sion that we paid during most of the ’60s and the min­imum $10 price today, that would be a 4,000% in­crease over five decades.

And you don’t get the car­toons or Buster Crabbe or Hitler sending Eu­rope reeling into war . . .


ParamountTheater lobby 1000

FEATURED IMAGE: The photo at the top of this page is of the lobby of the Para­mount The­ater be­fore the Susque­hanna River added four­teen feet of water to down­town Wilkes-Barre in June 1972. This was what it was like to walk into many of the bigger, better movie houses in the day. It might be 100 feet from the huge glass doors to the con­ces­sion stand.

As you walked into the the­ater and through the lobby, the walls on both sides usu­ally had one-sheet posters of pre­vious hit movies or up­coming ti­tles. Palaces such as this often had a down­stairs where the re­strooms were lo­cated, and there were chairs to sit an enjoy a cig­a­rette during intermission.



1   While most off these build­ings sur­vived the Great Flood of Ought-72 and are still standing, I’m not cer­tain if any of them are movie houses any­more. Our beloved Forty Forth The­ater is now home to sev­eral offices.

2   My friend Brian vol­un­teered this ob­ser­va­tion that re­in­forces my basic ar­gu­ment re­garding in­fla­tion and ticket prices:

“In 1965, my neighbor bought a new Corvette con­vert­ible right off the show­room floor. He was in his early thir­ties, single, making about $10,000 a year as a public school teacher, and preparing to start his ca­reer at the about-to-open Bellevue Com­mu­nity Col­lege. The car cost $3,200, or 32% of his yearly salary.

In 2013, the cheapest new 2014 Corvette con­vert­ible you can buy right off the show­room floor starts at $56,000—and that’s be­fore any op­tions are added. So to make the equa­tion sim­ilar, an early-career teacher (less than ten years on the job) would have to be making more than $175,000 a year for the same ratio to apply.

I’ll save you the suspense—no public school teacher any­where is making that kind of salary no matter how long they’ve been on the job.”


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