Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Riske Business: 10 Reasons We Buy Overpriced Popcorn at the Movies

I go to the movies a lot. More often than not, I get popcorn. I should know better. Popcorn is wildly overpriced and unhealthy. If I added up all of the money I’ve spent in my life on popcorn, I would be writing this article from a mansion. I am currently writing this article from a crawl space I rent from JB. It’s damp and dark but full of promise. I know I’m not alone. Why do we buy popcorn at the movies?
10. Tractor Beams
I have a weakness for walking straight ahead, and movie theaters have gotten wise to it. I’m pretty sure that’s what they discuss at Cinema Con each year. Seriously, though, the concession counter is like the impulse buys in a grocery store. It’s on your way and you’re always kind of hungry, right? So, why not stop and give Century Theaters a $6 donation?
9. Art House Corn
The big theater chains are hit and miss when it comes to popcorn quality. Regal and Century theaters are good. AMC is pretty bad. The real deal popcorn is at repertory and art house theaters. These theaters often use real butter instead of butter flavored topping and you never see them using heat lamps. They keep it fresh, yo! Sometimes, though, art house theaters go too indie on their corn and it tastes like it was made by Lars Von Trier. The worst is the popcorn at Chicago’s Landmark Century Theaters. It tastes like it was gestating in a Prius for two weeks. I want my corn more Toronto Film Festival and less Tribeca Film Festival. If there’s a sticker on the bag that it was approved by Brit Marling, beware.
8. Look at all These Salt Options
A few years ago, movie theaters started to set up tables with a variety of popcorn seasonings. Most are absurd. For example, there's Butter seasoning, which seems a little redundant. If your theater has the Butter seasoning, ask to speak with the manager. Tell him that it is his cavalier attitude about cost overhead that led to your small popcorn costing $6.50 instead of $6. If you don’t have a way with words, throw the Butter seasoning at his head. Other ridiculous seasonings I’ve seen are Barbecue (which I guess makes sense to people who put butter flavored topping on ribs) and Jalapeno (because popcorn is a popular Mexican dish). I do like the Carmel and Chocolate Marshmallow seasonings though. I put them on my popcorn whenever they are available. Yum
7. How Can I Watch a “Popcorn Movie” Without Popcorn?
For some reason I feel bad when I’m not having popcorn at a big budget summer movie. The experience is all about excess, right? So I like to go for gluttony. The fighter pilot gets it.
6. Nothing’s Too Good for My Baby
Hey fellas, boo needs a snack. You might not want popcorn yourself, but she does, so you’re getting popcorn because she’s your shorty. If your girl is happy, you’re happy. And why else did you buy that new leather jacket? To impress her! And you’re going to stop short and not get her some corn? I don’t think so. Note: I’m pretty sure the couple on the right is on their way to see Fast & Furious 6. Getting your date some popcorn shows her your code is family. If you don’t, she’ll know your code is precision.
5. Peer Pressure Concessions
I can’t tell you how many times I don’t want popcorn but my family or friends do so I end up in line right behind them. Another test is when you’re in the theater already and your movie bud says “I’m going to the concession stand, do you want anything?” Damn right you do.
4. AMC Theaters
The people at AMC Theaters are geniuses. The first reason is for the invention of the AMC Stubs card, which gives the member $10 credit for every $100 they spend. My chimp brain goes “Cool, if I spend $15 right now, I’ll get to that $10 credit for next time! I’ll get popcorn, a Coke and some chocolate covered raisins.” People love achievements. The second reason is because AMC made their employees wear name tags with not just their name but also THEIR FAVORITE MOVIE. The best one I’ve seen is a teenager who had Shooter listed as his favorite movie. How is that possible? Has he not seen Contraband? This kid is so lucky. Whatever movie he sees next will be his new favorite movie (because any movie is better than Shooter). As a student of the absurd, I have to check what the concession stand’s favorite movie is every time I go to an AMC theater. F-ing Shooter.
3. Social Awkwardness
Sometimes people go to the movies by themselves. It’s weird sitting in a theater by yourself with nothing to occupy you. So you take out your phone, discreetly masturbate or go buy yourself some popcorn. It’s social proofing. People know you’re a psychopath if you’re sitting in a theater by yourself staring at a blank screen. Eating popcorn let’s everyone else know that you’re normal. This also applies to when you’re waiting in the lobby, like this unpopular girl in the picture on the right. Her friend is late because her friend is trying to establish alpha standing. The girl waiting in the lobby should go buy popcorn to show her friend (when he/she arrives) that she is not dependent on them for happiness. But this girl isn’t buying popcorn, so she is telling the theater that she is desperate and probably terrible.
2. A Cartoon Told You To
Old-timey cartoons have a lot of wisdom. They’ve been through World War II, so I would listen to them if they suggest you deserve a treat. Do you think they’re singing that song to amuse themselves? No, they worked really hard perfecting the docile tones and huckleberry charm to relay an important message about compliance to instant gratification. If you don’t get popcorn after Paula P. Popcorn coos the suggestion in your ear, then you, sir, are a son of a bitch.
1. This is Your Dinner
Have you ever gone to a movie around a meal time? You didn’t get the opportunity to have lunch or dinner, so you’re going to have popcorn at the movies instead. This kind of thing happens. One of my most memorable movie experiences happened while having popcorn for dinner. It was opening weekend for The Passion of the Christ and I was seeing it as the second half of a theater-hop double feature with Broken Lizard’s Club Dread. I didn’t have time to take a break in between the two movies and I was starving, so I went and bought popcorn for dinner. I get into the theater for The Passion of the Christ and no one else is having refreshments! Then they all look at me like I’m an asshole. You know what? If you don’t want me to have popcorn, then tell the theater not to sell popcorn during this particular movie. I was there to see the new controversial Mel Gibson picture, not go to church. If I was in church, I would not have popcorn. But these church groups gave me shit because I’m eating popcorn in my church? Puh-lease! Also, because I’m a compassionate person, I was planning on going to town on the corn during the previews so I’m not being the guy eating popcorn while Jesus Christ is crucified. But then Kerasotes Theaters and Mel Gibson have the audacity to not show previews before the movie. Dammit! So yeah, I ate popcorn during The Passion of the Christ. It tasted like guilt.

Your turn! Why do you buy overpriced popcorn at the movies?


  1. Adam, thanks for the shout out. Your rent was still due two days ago.

    Hands down, the best popcorn around here is at the Music Box; the Portage Theater (R.I.P.) had pretty good popcorn too. AMC's popcorn is only good if they scoop it right from the FRESHLY POPPED batch into your bag. Yum!

    I am not sure if it is the popcorn quality at Landmark Century, Adam, or the bag they serve it in. Landmark is the only chain that uses brown craft paper bags, and whenever I get popcorn there, I vaguely feel like a homeless person nuzzling through the garbage for a snack. Their butter topping is also quite strange.

    Why do we get popcorn at the movies? Because it would be too messy to eat a steak.

    1. I pay my rent in Timballo. It's in the lease.

      I completely agree with you on the Music Box popcorn being the best. I wasn't crazy about the Portage popcorn (RIP) because it tasted like a wrecking ball. The Patio (RIP?) has/had really good popcorn too.

      Thumbs down to Landmark's derelict corn.

  2. Are you sure the dude who listed "Shooter" as his favorite movie wasn't my dad? Sounds a lot like my dad. Did he have a Michelob Ultra on him, perchance?

    I can't ditto reason #1 enough though. Nothing beats a well balanced meal of popcorn (veggies), butter (dairy), and Cherry Coke (fruit). 4 out of 5 doctors approve. And the 5th one is busy watching Jersey Girl.

    1. Jersey Girl > Shooter. And yes, it was your dad.

    2. But did Jersey Girl have Danny Glover wearing George Washington era dentures? This has to factor into your rankings...

    3. Recently, one of the helpful, young urchins at AMC had her favorite movie on her name tag listed as She's The Man. As Adam alluded to in his column, it made me wonder if she had only seen one movie in her life.

  3. I once at an entire bucket of chicken during a screening of Apocalypto. NO REGRETS!

    1. How did you smuggle the bucket into the theater? Please tell me it was be having a lady-friend masquerading as pregnant.

    2. I bet someone's eaten p***y during a screening of The Beaver. No regrets?

    3. This made me laugh out loud. What's "p***y?"

  4. If there’s a sticker on the bag that it was approved by Brit Marling, beware.

    This made me laugh-out loud, which would be fine except I'm at the office and everyone else around looked at me funny... oh well. :-P

    Good article. My favorite popcorn here in Gotham is at IFC Center: fresh, toasty and goes down fine while melting at the intellectual depravity of a Jodorowsky midnight movie. I find that I have to want to enjoy popcorn with the movie (regardless of whether it's a popcorn flick or not) for me to spend the extra $$$ on an overpriced snack.

    Didn't Patrick or JB mention in a podcast that they ran into a girl at AMC who misspelled "The Boondock Saints" in her nametag? Seems fitting.

  5. This seems like a good place to ask an age old question that I've been using to justify my purchasing of junk at the cinema.

    I always try to buy items from the candy bar due to the belief that you are supporting the cinemas business that way, more so than buying the ticket. This is due to a tid bit of info I heard once that such a small percentage of the ticket price actually goes to the cinema. Then after the closing of my childhood local cinema I made a conscious decision that if I want my cinema to stay open, even if it's a big chain, I should support it by buying from The candy bar.

    Am I wrong or over emphasizing this point? I hope not because popcorn is yummy. And I kinda like the popcorn Hangover, ie shriveled lips.

    1. I do the same thing with theaters I like.

  6. As a kid I couldn't see any movie without my ridiculously large popcorn bag featuring whatever the latest Batman movie was (Catwoman and the Penguin in the same movie yeah!). Although as I got older I started to become curmudgeonly and hate all the after effects of popcorn, its in my teeth, I am still not full, I am leaking fluids like Johnny 5 from Short Circuit. I would dare say its been about over a year since I had popcorn at the movie theatre.

    Although since we are talking about movie concessions, I give high praise to the Enzian theatre in downtown Orlando Florida for their freshly baked chocolate chip cookies, best treat I have ever had in a theatre. The movie was The Wrestler, also a good movie.

  7. Fun article but I kinda have to go with a simple one that didn't make the list: I like popcorn. I even eat it NOT at a movie. As for the list though, sometimes #1.

    We've only got one chain of theatres here in Halifax, so I'm not a well-travelled connosieur but they make pretty damn good popcorn I think - crisp and puffy - they have an option for real butter but I actually like the substitute just fine.

    I did, however, recently not buy anything because I got there late and there were lineups, and I gotta say, I did kinda like only spending $7 for the night. At the same time, I feel like Brad might be right about it helping the theatre make money. My favourite employee from Blockbuster (R.I.P.) works at the theatre I go to, and I don't want to see him lose another job...