As rates soar, a proposed cap on cinema ticket prices could revitalize cinemas and their role as "a people's agora,” one French MP states.
Have cinema tickets become prohibitively expensive?
The general answer seems to be ‘yes’ and French politician Sarah Legrain has taken notice.
During a press conference last week, Legrain, Vice-Chairwoman of the Committee on Cultural Affairs and Education, MP for the LFI-Nupes group (the New Ecological and Social People’s Union) and member of the French National Assembly, announced that she was tabling a bill to cap cinema ticket prices.
Legrain wants to "make cinema addictive" by setting a cap on increasingly expensive cinema ticket prices. In her view, the bill would make it easier for "occasional cinema-goers to become regulars".
The bill provides for a framework for cinema ticket prices without defining them, leaving it up to the executive to set them by decree. At the same time, the distribution of advertising revenue would also be rethought. Finally, the MP intends to introduce a tax on popcorn and other confectionery for cinemas with more than three screens. Set at 10.72%, this tax would be paid directly to the CNC (Centre National du Cinéma – the French National Centre of Cinematography and Animated Pictures) to feed the support fund for creative support.
A misleading price average
The CNC estimates the average price of a cinema ticket at €7.04, a price tag which does seem reasonable.
However, that average doesn’t represent the reality of many cinemagoers’ experiences. Almost 40% of cinemas charge higher prices.
In multiplexes, which account for the largest proportion of the offer, it is not uncommon for tickets to cost up to €14. With the technological development of cinemas and offers in 3D or 4DX, some exhibitors are charging exorbitant prices, with some tickets costing up to €18.50 in chains like UGC or Pathé, two of France’s most ubiquitous cinema chains. The same price tag can be seen in cinemas in the UK, the Netherlands and Belgium.
The digital and new technology media Presse Citron conducted a survey, examining the ticket prices at Pathé, Gaumont, MK2, UGC and CGR cinemas in France's 20 biggest cities, including Paris, Marseille, Lyon, Toulouse and Nice. Their comparative study showed that cinema tickets cost an average of €11.28.
If audiences are looking for cheaper tickets, their best bet is to head to more independent cinemas and arthouse establishments, like the Yorck Kino chain in Germany or France’s indie cinemas like Lumière cinemas in Lyon or establishments like the Cinéma du Panthéon in Paris. And even then, “full” tickets are around the €8.50 mark.
"For a family with two children, a trip to the multiplex costs 50 euros just for the tickets, 75 euros with the 4DX option. If they allow themselves a packet of popcorn, they have to add between 4 and 8 euros," stated Sarah Legrain.
A return to the people’s agora
The MP has cited French actors Adèle Exarchopoulos (Blue is the Warmest Colour, Sibyl, The Five Devils) and Kad Merad (The Chorus, Welcome to the Sticks), who have both railed against the high price of cinema tickets.
Speaking on RMC (Radio Monte-Carlo) last year, Merad warned about the future of cinema in a context of inflation: "A cinema ticket isn't cheap (...) When you go away with your family and take two ice creams and three sweets, it makes for expensive evenings.”
"At that time, there was already high inflation, but nothing like today", explained Legrain.
There's also the streaming issue to keep an eye on. A survey from the CNC last year found that the drop in attendance was not just a “loss of habit” but also due to rising ticket prices and competition from streaming platforms.
“We are fighting against only one enemy,” said Aurélie Delage, manager of the Megarama cinema group in the French commune of Garat. “The couch, which is free!”
Exhibitors were alarmed by the fact that attendance at cinemas was at an all-time low last year, and as cinemas began to fill up at the start of 2023, there were hopes that attendance could come back to pre-pandemic levels. Certain recent releases like blockbusters Fast and Furious X and Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 3 have lured in audiences, and French films like The Three Musketeers: D'Artagnan and Je verrais toujours vos visages have both attracted over a million admissions.
However, the increase in attendance is misleading according to Legrain, who claims that it is "felt in two or three films such as Super Mario Bros".
A cap on cinema ticket prices is only good news for French cinemagoers, should the bill be adopted. No news yet as to when that would be or whether the proposed measures can revitalize cinemas and their “role as a people's agora,” as Legrain wishes.
"Going to the cinema should not become a luxury", she added.
Finally something we can all agree on.