Ethics and Frugality — Movie Candy

by Katy on August 16, 2010 · 80 comments

There are many opportunities to save money that are on the wrong side of my moral compass. I will not switch price tags, reuse stamps or download free music from file sharing sites. Seriously, I remember a Christmas party from years back when a friend’s boyfriend (now husband) bragged about switching price tags from a small Christmas tree to a larger one. He was proud of his “good deal,” and everyone there applauded his ingenuity. I just thought of him as a thief!

But as much as I think of myself as an honest person, there are a few things I do that you might not. One example of this is bringing my own snacks to the movies. I know this is against the policy of most theaters, but I just can’t bring myself to pay $3.50 for a box of candy. In other areas of my apparently segmented mind I believe that not being able to afford something does not excuse rule breaking, but this one category somehow breaks through my rigid moral code. I’m a Junior Mint enthusiast, although I only eat them when I’m in a movie theater. (Never during the credits, has to be the main attraction!)

And yes, I feel no guilt.

I asked my Twitter and Non-Consumer Advocate Facebook followers (both personal Facebook and official Non-Consumer Advocate group) if they brought their own candy to the theater, and if so, did it make them feel guilty, and this is what I heard:

From Julia: “yes and no. They gouge us at the ticket booth. Do they feel guilty? My point exactly.”

From Leslie: “Yes, and no way. There was some angst over how to explain to my younger kids why I was breaking the rules (especially once they were able to read the signs at the theater). But I explained that it was either that or no snacks. They got over it pretty quickly.”

From Susan: “We compromise – bring drinks and candy but buy popcorn.”

From Julie: “I’m so cheap I take them to the $1.50 movie AND sneak in our own snacks. No way around it when paying for 6!”

From Tina: “My sister-in-law is the queen of smuggled movie snacks. Best one: fried chicken and ice cream. She said they had pancakes one time, with syrup…. Beer…. burritos… she makes her own screwdrivers in the movie… Chinese take-out… Soup… You name it.”

And the lone dissenter from Twitter:

From RobbieKay: “I don’t because I’m a rule follower, but I resent not being able to bring my own.”

In all, I got 20 replies to this question, and only one person was against bringing her own candy. Yet if I had any Twitter followers who owned movie theaters, I’m sure the response would have been very different. The cinemas that we frequent have owners who are people, not corporations. And the majority of their profits are probably from the concessions stand NOT the $1 – $3 admission fee. We do buy occasionally slices of pizza from The Bagdad Theater, as I’m not going to smuggle in my own pizza. And I stop short of Tina’s sister-in-law’s propensity to set up an entire luncheon buffet when seeing a movie.

How about you? Do you bring your own snacks when seeing movies? And if so, are you racked with guilt?

Please share your thoughts in the comments section below.

Katy Wolk-Stanley

“Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without”

{ 80 comments… read them below or add one }

Annie Jones August 16, 2010 at 5:10 am

Yes, I bring my own snacks and drinks with me. No, I do not feel guilty. I’m there to see their movie, not to buy their food.

That said, I only go to a movie about once every year or two. Netflix or Redbox at home is so much less expensive, so much more comfortable and completely eliminates the snack smuggling issue.


Mary Ann August 16, 2010 at 5:16 am

Yes, I take my own. I like my gummi bears. But I don’t feel that I’m cheating the theater out of anything, because even if I don’t bring my own, there is no way that I’m buying theirs. I’m not that desperate for a snack.


WilliamB August 16, 2010 at 4:30 pm

This is my thought as well – but only for big chain theaters. For small locals or the local brew & views, I buy food or drink if I feel like it. They serve something worth paying for rather than the same stuff inflated 200%.


Kristen@TheFrugalGirl August 16, 2010 at 5:25 am

No, but it’s not a frequent temptation because we hardly EVER go to the theater! lol I think I’ve been exactly twice in our 13 years of marriage. =P


J. August 16, 2010 at 5:29 am

We sometimes buy and sometimes I bring my own, but it’s usually stuff they don’t sell anyway (candy I like but they don’t carry, sesame sticks from Whole Foods bulk bin, etc.) that I can package myself to minimize waste. I have also smuggled in tap water in my Kleen Kanteen.

I would never bring a dinner buffet–and I think it would be rude to bring something really messy or smelly, or to bring booze to a theater that didn’t serve alcohol. When I was in high school, we used to smuggle in boxes of cereal under our coats to the dollar theater–but I don’t do that anymore!


Angela August 16, 2010 at 5:43 am
Jen August 16, 2010 at 5:52 am

It is still wrong even if most people do it anyway. The theaters make all their profit from concessions. If I can’t bring myself to buy their stuff, we just don’t bring snacks. I also teach my kids that it is okay to go two hours without stuffing their faces sometimes and not eating at the movies is a good way to do that. Besides, movies are a very occasional thing for us!

The small movie theater near me even has a posted policy that anyone caught with their own snacks will be ejected from the theater. They would not be able to operate at all without concession money, they barely make it as it is! I admit I am weird though, I like to do things like spend extra money to support American businesses or buy quality items, when most people around me just want the cheapest, no matter where it came from.


David August 16, 2010 at 6:09 am

If I want snacks with a movie I will bring my own (except for the occasional popcorn) because of the cost and the type of snacks provided. I cannot justify paying $3-5 for junk food I would not eat outside of the theater despite it being how the theaters make “all their profit”. Anyways, if I do bring snacks it is stuff that they don’t carry and probably will never carry: dried apples, popcorn with nutritional yeast (actually a few theaters in Seattle do stock nutritional yeast for that reason), decent chocolate, and non-bottled water.


Hiptobeme August 16, 2010 at 6:19 am

I just brought a bag of candy to the matinee recently. I don’t always do this but this way, I thought, I could control a small portion. I did not like the way it felt to tell my son one thing and do another, however, so next time, we’ll just eat beforehand. I guess I did feel a little guilty :/.


HeatherS August 16, 2010 at 6:24 am

I buy a popcorn/drink combo that we all share but do bring in our own candy. Each of my kids brings something small, usually something still left from Easter basket or Halloween or parade candy. I don’t want them to have a huge box of candy so one little piece is better. I also bring in a square of dark chocolate for me. Our theater doesn’t sell dark chocolate! That said after my son could read the sign, it has bothered me a little. I guess I justify it by buying their popcorn and pop. We only go a few times a year.


Beth D. August 16, 2010 at 6:29 am

I don’t bring my own snacks to the movies probably because I was so embarrassed by it as a child! My mom wasn’t frugal or into saving money on stuff, but she would bring GIANT bags of M&Ms in her purse and made a lot of noise opening them. I always thought we would get caught and that made me feel anxious and upset, so when I think about sneaking stuff in now it makes me feel the same way.

p.s. I’m pretty certain that switching price tags is stealing and it would be pretty hard for me to keep a friend that did it and thought it was a “deal”.


Jennifer August 16, 2010 at 6:45 am

I go to the theater so rarely that I buy my soda & popcorn there. I usually don’t get candy. Movie theaters do make their money from the concessions not ticket prices.


Rebecca August 16, 2010 at 7:17 am

Rules are rules, as much as we may dislike them. We have started doing what my mom did when we have the rare chance to catch a movie. We buy the largest drink/ popcorn combo, usually it allows at least one free refill on both, if not unlimited. I bring in my reusable water bottle, empty, and either fill it from the bubbler at the theatre or dump a soda in there and get a refill for my husb. And If it is more than the 2 of us, I bring a clean, empty plastic bag along, dump the first tub of popcorn in there and go and get a refill. or 2.


Shari August 16, 2010 at 7:18 am

As a parent, I balance the teaching moment against my pocketbook. I will bring in a water bottle….it’s environmentally correct and there’s a water fountain so I don’t feel guilty. I purchase popcorn but try and stay away from any other purchases….it’s healthier.


Theresa in Mérida August 16, 2010 at 7:34 am

When my kids were little we used to buy a big coke and a big popcorn and share it. That and the movie was the big treat.
When we used to go to drive ins as teens, we used to bring our own stuff in, but that was different. I don’t remember there being rules against it.
Now, I just don’t buy anything. It’s part of my war on unconscious eating. The mindless eating is what has gotten me overweight over the years. Though, if I am already carrying a bottle of water, I don’t throw it away. I live in a country where you don’t routinely drink the water, so it isn’t like I can take a swig out of a drinking fountain.
Think of it this way, would you sneak your own food into a restaurant if you thought they were too expensive?


WilliamB August 16, 2010 at 4:38 pm

But you go to a restaurant to eat, just as we go to the movies to watch a movie. The movie theater analogy to your restaurant situation is “would you sneak a movie in on your iPhone, when you go to the movie theater?”

I think a better restaurant analogy is not being strong-armed into buying expensive bottled water when tap water is just fine.


WilliamB August 16, 2010 at 5:10 pm

After some thought I have, I think, a decent analogy: would you sneak beer into a (beer selling) ball park?


Ann August 16, 2010 at 7:48 am

We don’t eat during movies. I agree with Theresa and Jen…It is possible (and healthy) to go two hours without eating.


Stephanie S. August 16, 2010 at 7:48 am

I bring my own candy into movie theaters–and I have to admit I never thought to feel guilty about it until now! However, I wouldn’t buy their concessions even if I didn’t bring my own snacks, so I don’t feel that I’m cheating the theater out of business they’d otherwise be getting. On the other hand, my husband loves to buy icees and popcorn at the concession stand…


Melissa August 16, 2010 at 8:02 am

I have once or twice brought my own candy in, but usually I just get something there or don’t have anything at all (sitting a watching a movie and eating is just like sitting and watching TV and eating – none of it good for the waistline). That said, in college I used to work as an usher in a movie theater (big chain), and once caught a group of guys who had had a PIZZA DELIVERED to one of the exit doors of the theater. I couldn’t help but think it was hilarious, so I just let them eat it, and promise not to do it again.


Jenny August 16, 2010 at 8:17 am

We live in a small town with an independent movie theatre. They hold fund-raising night for any group that asks (they get a percentage of the door), donate discount movie cards to the local public radio station’s fund drive, and give away free passes as prizes for local contests. I will use any of the above discount tickets I have to get in, but I always buy popcorn and a drink.

The manager is a tough-talking mid-40s woman who has hired quite a few kids on the edge and turned them around by giving them a listening ear and respect while expecting them to show up for work on time, be appropriately dressed and work hard.

I’m not a huge movie-goer, but like to support this place–our town would be the poorer if it goes away.


Coral Clarke August 29, 2023 at 12:11 am

The manager supports the community, and deserves support from the community in return . Living in a city ( Brisbane , Australia))Average adult ticket price $15- $25 AUD, I rarely go, but would either not snack, or bring snacks.$10x$20Aud for popcorn and a drink is a hard no! Their business model makes the movie ticket a given, snacks and drinks are not compulsory!


Cate August 16, 2010 at 8:23 am

I always bring my own candy, and I don’t feel guilty about it at all! If I weren’t bringing in my own candy, there’s NO way we’d be buying it at the theater (so I fail to see how I’m hurting their profits by bringing my own). I refuse to pay $4.00 for a box of candy I can get at the mini mart next door for .79! Rules are rules, but some rules are stupid.

Of course, we could go several hours without eating, but what can I say? We like snacking during movies. 🙂 I do make sure that we never bring anything especially loud or smelly.

We do occasionally share a small popcorn, because it’s yummy.


WilliamB August 16, 2010 at 4:41 pm

The theater’s pricing plan is to sell the tickets “cheap” (relative term, obviously) then sell the snacks at extortionate prices to the captive audience. The profit margin on soda is beyond belief and popcorn may be even cheaper. They also oversalt the popcorn so we get thirsty.


Tara August 16, 2010 at 8:39 am

I used to feel guilty when we had a locally-owned theatre, but now its just another faceless corporation. I do buy popcorn there, because I love it, but I do smuggle in my own candy and drink.

Ideally, however, I’ll take the family to our locally-owned drive-in, whose policy allows outside food to be brought in. We still buy nachos there, however, because they’re too delicious to pass up.


Leslie K. August 16, 2010 at 8:39 am

Good point about the “people owned” theaters, Katy. When we go to an indie theater, or even a McMenamin’s theater, I tend to buy the snacks there. BUT – they don’t charge $4 for a box of Junior Mints (my fav also). Their prices are comparable to what we would buy at a store, so I am happy to support their snack bar. Also, a movie is close to the only times we buy candy for our kids, so it’s a double treat for them.


Sarah August 16, 2010 at 8:41 am

Wait, where is there a $1-3 admission fee to a movie!? I don’t think matinees near me are even that cheap!


Katy August 16, 2010 at 8:48 am

Portland is rich with awesome second run theaters, one of which is walking distance from my house. It’s $3 adult admission, $1 child admission. This means that adult plus two kids only set me back five bucks.

They have kid matinees on the weekends, so I’ve probably taken the kids there at least 50 times. Plus, they’re welcome to invite their friends.

My treat!


P.S. It’s also a brewpub. And they have an old fashioned balcony with couches.


My Roman Apartment August 16, 2010 at 9:02 am

I depends on the theater. I live in Los Angeles where I’m incredibly lucky to have a huge variety of pretty spectacular movie theaters. If it’s Disney’s El Capitan where ticket prices are $20 each and the bottled water is $4, well, Disney can totally suck it. That’s just pure greed because their movie going experience is no better than the Mann’s Chinese which is right across the street and costs $11 per ticket. If it’s Cinefamily or The New Beverly, which are run pretty much on love, I ALWAYS buy food because the people who run specialty theaters spend hours programming great movies for me, and they deserve to be paid a living wage. Also, good theaters employ actual people like projectionists and real ushers who deserve to be paid for making my movie experience perfection. Most chain theaters run films off a big platter and don’t check the sound quality, turn the projector light up to 100% etc… to save money on employee costs, at the viewer’s expense. At theaters like UCLA or LACMA, I never bring in outside food because they are part of a museum or school and their reasons for asking for no outside food has everything to do with maintaining a clean performance space for the public and not making money off the concession stand.


Karen August 16, 2010 at 9:02 am

The day after school was out, I took my 8 year old daughter to a matinee. I think before that, the last movie I saw in the theater was the 2nd or 3rd Harry Potter. Anyway, I was SHOCKED at the prices of not only the ticket but the snacks. Sure, they’ve always been high, but it was almost double what I remembered. This was a mega-theater, not a small privately owned one. Anyway, we shared some popcorn, but I just couldn’t spend that much money for candy that I can usually get for almost free. She understands the whole coupon thing. We didn’t need candy anyway.
In the past, I’ve brought my own snacks, including bags of micrcowave popcorn. I never felt guilty. But, my daughter is a stickler for rules and she was very anxious to be carrying her water bottle. She kept sticking it in her shirt. I just couldn’t do anything that would make her that upset.
But, overall…no guilt.


Andrea August 16, 2010 at 9:18 am

The food proffered in most movie theaters (the big commercial kind…not talking about the little locals that have sofas and make gourmet pizza) is not only insanely expensive, but horrifyingly unhealthy. Is it ethical of them to fill children full of high fruictose corn syrup and carcinogenic popcorn “butter?” I think not. I usually don’t eat during a movie, but if I do, I take my own drink (often water, but sometimes something yummy) and snacks and no guilt!


psmflowerlady/Tammy August 16, 2010 at 9:46 am

I typically feed the kids before they go to the theater. When they were smaller, I would get the combo and require they share (pop & popcorn). Now, we don’t really go as a group. If they go with friends, they pay for their own snacks and admission. It’s amazing how quickly kids can get over the “need” to snack when they actually pay for it themselves. I have on rare occasions brought small candy/mints and I think I once brought a can of soda. In general, I feel too guilty to do that though. In reality, I MUCH prefer waiting and watching the movies in the comfort of my own home – where I can enjoy my favorite snack – ice cream – something I couldn’t smuggle if I wanted to.


Terri August 16, 2010 at 10:50 am

My husband and I generally go right after lunch. The matinee price are better plus I don’t do well with crowds. We will get a large drink or icee to share then skip all snack food. We don’t get out for less than $22 for the pair of us. It works for us.


CC August 16, 2010 at 11:09 am

I almost never go to the movies. When I do I think of getting a snack as part of the experience. Since I don’t go often I budget for it.

I feel this is just like eating out. I won’t stiff the wait staff just because I think I spent too much on food. I just go less often.

Also when I have to pay for parking, its part of the event so I factor it in.

Just because others do it doesn’t mean I can. Call me goody two shoes because I also obey the speed limit.LOL


Jessica August 16, 2010 at 12:46 pm

I am trying to figure out the best way to formulate the idea in my brain about the movies and bringing your own snacks. The theatre has a rule, does that mean you are morally obliged to obey the rule? I don’t think so necessarily, but I agree with others that if it is a locally owned business you have more of a social obligation to your community to help the people there stay employed by a fair company. I don’t think you have a moral obligation to obey rules set by a corporation that pays workers little and rakes in huge profits for a CEO that spend half their time on the golf course.

I guess I think of it this way, I’m a teacher and my class has rules, when the kids disobey the “no texting during class” rule, they aren’t morally wrong in and of the action, they may be harming the learning of others for that brief time if it distracts other students, but unless they are cheaing on an assignment, it’s not a moral problem. I hope that makes sense.


Rachel August 16, 2010 at 2:06 pm

We go to the movies fairly often now that the kids are older. We spend $7 each for 4 tickets at the matinee = $28. Then we get the large drink/large tub of popcorn combo (yes, they have 1 free refill on each container) = $11. I don’t feel too guilty bringing in the occasional $1 box of candy from the dollar store after spending $39 to watch a movie with the family.


Cyndel August 16, 2010 at 2:07 pm

In high school my friends worked at a movie theater and would always either get me in free or for the child’s price. They would get me the popcorn for about $1 and I brought candy to share with all of the workers. Now, I go to the movies like once every 6 months and don’t do either. I’m not paying the money and I don’t want to bother bringing candy. I don’t eat it when I watch a movie at home, so I really don’t need it during a movie I paid for!


KrisR August 16, 2010 at 2:28 pm

Yes our family, myself & 3 kids, do take our own into a movie. I try to keep the kids away from the sugar so we opt for healthy choices, nuts, dried fruits maybe a few chocolates in the mix. We do buy a small soda and popcorn to share as those are treats I reserve for the movie. I’ll bring in my own water as I won’t pay for their bottled stuff. But I also make sure we’ve had a meal before we go so bellies are full and there’s not much whining.
I agree with you about the smaller family run theaters, I will buy a box of Raisinets, popcorn and drink when we go to the Moreland. And LOVE to get a meal with a movie at any of the McMenamins. We like Edgefield for that so we can wander the grounds and make a day of it looking at art and flowers or watching the glass blowers, and sometimes be lucky enough to hear so good music. We also support the 99W Drive In during summer months. We’ll take a few things to nibble but will always get a round of hotdog and soda at some point. I’ve seen people with barbeques there and it’s just a shame. The smaller/family owned theaters need our support to continue to give us that personal service so we won’t be stuck paying big bucks to the corporate chains.


Amanda N August 16, 2010 at 3:18 pm

We see about two matinees a year and there are no second run theaters in our area. My husband loves fountain drinks and likes to have popcorn with his movie. Me, I like canned sodas(the few times a year I have them), and a blow pop. So he buys his popcorn and soda and I take mine in. He spends around $9 on his treats and I spend about $1.25 on mine. I figure it evens out so I don’t feel guilty. My mom used to pop our popcorn at home and we would stop by the convenience store for botteld drinks. It was the only way we could afford to have treats at the movie. We already only went to the matinee. I could count on two hand the times I have seen a movie at full price in my life (and I am 35.)


deena August 16, 2010 at 3:35 pm

The movie theatre business is structured so that the theatre owner makes his/her money from concessions, not from the ticket price. Taking in your own food means that the theatre owner doesn’t make any money on you presence, and I do have a moral issue with that.

That said, I find movie tickets and concessions ridiculously expensive, especially in light of the fact that theatre owners do very little to make going to the theatre a pleasant experience. Paying $9.50 each for tickets, plus $7.00 for popcorn & $4.50 each for drinks just to listen to people answer their cell phones and talk over the sound of the film isn’t how we choose to spend money.

The end result is that we rarely go to the movie theatre. We borrow DVDs from the library, get them from NetFlix, or we buy them. Even at full price when we buy DVDs, the cost is less than the cost of just two of us going to the theatre (there are 5 of us).


Sarah August 16, 2010 at 3:37 pm

This is something I have tossed around for awhile. The local theaters announced a few years ago that it was ok to bring in your own snacks, so we would. But they recently rescinded that rule and no longer allow outside food. Although its tempting, we don’t sneak in food.

My view is this – I am choosing to go to the theater. They are allowed to establish their own rules. If I choose to go, then I need to abide by their rules. Just like we teach our kids to respect other people’s rules when out at other people’s houses. If I don’t want to abide by a “stupid” rule, then I don’t go to that place. Corporation or locally owned makes no difference.

If seeing the movie is worth it to me, then we go to a matinee, and DH will get us a large drink & popcorn to share. It costs us an extra $8 most of the time. If we don’t want to spend that, then we just eat beforehand, or make plans to go eat afterward.


pat August 16, 2010 at 4:04 pm

I’m a milk-dud fan myself. And while they are $3.50 a box at the theatre they are slightly over $1 at Aldi which is just down the road from the theatre. Same size box too. So I always make a quick stop at Aldi on the way. Do I feel guilty – nope. If my family wants popcorn I’ll spring for it there but candy definately is never purchased there.


Rhonda August 16, 2010 at 4:07 pm

I am possibly the lone commenter who thinks you all are stealing. Not only are a lot of you setting poor examples for your children but you don’t feel badly about it. I no longer wonder why we lack basic good citizenship. It’s a whole lot less about sneaking snacks into a theater than it is about being moral, teaching our children to be good citizens and to obey rules whether in a home or a theater or a school. Extend that logic even further and one wonders which laws are ok to obey and which ones we don’t agree with and break.


WilliamB August 16, 2010 at 5:01 pm

You make a good point and one I would discuss with children, to make it a richer conversation than “Should I follow rules or not?” Some considerations:
– was I part of making the rules?
– is there a reasonable alternative?
– what obligations do we owe the other party, what obligations does the other party owe us? Is the other party meeting its obligations?
– is the rule unconscionable; if so, why?
– who is harmed, to what extent, and to what cost?

“one wonders which laws are ok to obey and which ones we don’t agree with and break.”
I do think about this. There are things which are legal but immoral, and things that are moral but illegal. An obvious historical example is slavery; a more subtle one is coverture (whereby a married woman’s legal existence was subsumed by her husband’s – he spoke for her in public, in contract, in business, in law, in parental rights).


Jessica August 16, 2010 at 5:59 pm

I agree William – having a discussion about the nature of rules vs. laws vs. what is right and wrong. I think its great to discuss with children the idea that all laws aren’t just, as in your examples, and we don’t have to blindly obey whatever someone (or some company) tells us, we can make a decision for ourselves about our views on the matter. Some families might come to the conclusion that they feel that the answer that works for them is not to take a snack in, others will feel differently, for a variety of reasons.

So many examples abound that can really get chilren and adults considering the nature of rules, laws, etc.


Cate August 17, 2010 at 10:25 am

I’m with William and Jessica on this one.


Linda August 16, 2010 at 4:15 pm

“Rules are mostly suggestions, not carved in stone.”

That said, I would never change prices, steal, or take anything that did not belong to me. My moral center will not allow stealing in any form.

I hate popcorn of any kind and only want a decaffeinated Diet Coke, which our one large chain does not carry. There are no smaller theaters in this small town.
When I was a child and went alone with brothers and sisters, we never bought treats. It was my money/allowance I spent, so I saved it for more treats during the week. We ate first at Krystals and just did not buy at the theater.

As a mother, my children understood they could have what we carried in or nothing. Now, going on my on with friends, I do not buy in the theater. I take my own. Whether I take my own snacks or don’t eat at all, the theater loses nothing. On a first date I asked the guy to stop and get me a canned Coke and M&Ms. He was amused and impressed and complied with my wishes.

Later, a date bought mine but refused to carry anything in because it was part of the treat to buy popcorn and a fountain coke. The next time we went to the movies, I offered him a Coke and granola bar from my house. He let me bring a Coke for him but he bought popcorn at the theatre. The last time we went to the movies, he accepted the Coke and the granola bar or whatever I offered him. In three years, we went to the movies three times. If it is not cheating or stealing to NOT buy, then it is not stealing or cheating to bring my own because I would starve rather than pay the prices in the theatre.

My daughter who lives in NYC said they cannot afford to go to movies even though she carries their treats with them. Not getting a snack would not kill me at all. I don’t get a snack to watch a movie/dvd at home. But, I do not feel guilty when I take one into the theater.

I have never heard of anyone being ejected for bringing in outside food.


Laura W. August 16, 2010 at 4:45 pm

I bring in my own water because I’m against bottled water and against paying for water.

Popcorn is one of the highlights of attending the movies for me and I realize it’s where theater owners will make most of their money. The second run locally owned theater in my neighborhood charges a fair price for their popcorn and soda combo. I cringe at the total when I’m out at a mainstream movie theater. As a result, I end up at my local joint probably five times more often since I feel like I’m getting a fair deal.


namastemama August 16, 2010 at 4:51 pm

I never knew this was a ‘rule’. However I might go to a movie one time a year and NEVER a first run $8+ kind. I might take my own drink in – aka water and if I’m not watching my waist I’ll get the popcorn. After all going to a movie is a treat for us and that popcorn is AWESOME. I have never felt any guilt and would not but then again I’ve NEVER seen a sign that stated one could not bring their own snacks. I remember standing in line when I was in high school and the smart frugal folks would have microwaved bags of popcorn in their hands. Not hidden and no one ever got throw out.
Do all those families feel guilty when they bring McD’s in the Mexican restaurant? That’s the only place I could think one couldn’t bring in their own food or possibly a winery that says no outside drinks.


Marcey August 16, 2010 at 5:37 pm

Just one more reason to love the drive-in! 🙂


Kim August 16, 2010 at 5:55 pm

No we never take food in to the very small amount of films we see in the theater, even though I have 4 children, including on with a severe food allergy. Theaters make most of their income off of concessions. If we buy then I buy a large popcorn and drink and bring in smaller cups to divide our snack into 4 portions for the kids. It’s either that or they can spend their own money on a snack or we can all go without. Taking your own food in is equal to stealing from the theater or switching tags on a Christmas tree. It is important to be faithful in small things, even when ( maybe especially when) we think the rule shouldn’t apply.


Shannon August 16, 2010 at 5:57 pm

Personally I don’t have a problem w/ sneaking in a snack, but I don’t really snack, and can go two hours without one. However, I worked for a very large, prominent, national theater chain for almost ten years, and I can tell you that the exhibitors (the theaters) and not as swimming in riches as you might think as a consumer. The film companies usually get as much as 75% from the box office, so really by the time a theater pays the staff, the mortgage/lease, the utilities, taxes, etc., a very small percentage goes to the bottom line. This is part of the reason so many chains have gone to the megaplex model, because they literally can’t exist anymore with 4-8 screens. Your big chains aren’t really going to feel the pinch, though, if you’re sneaking in a drink or whatever. That said, if you are lucky enough to have a little mom-and-pop art house or historic neighborhood cinema that you love, you’d better buy their drink and popcorn, because chances are they are running on a shoestring. But is it really okay to screw the big guy and not okay to screw the little guy? Remember, that national theater chain is employing thousands of workers too.
And yes, no popcorn in the world will ever be as good as movie theater popcorn!!!


WilliamB August 17, 2010 at 5:31 am

Following up on my questions to discuss rule-following above, I’d bring up the issue that I am not a party to the negotiations between the film company and the theater-owner. In my area, at least, the theater owners are big companies and have good negotiating position vis-a-vis the film company.

On a separate note, you have peaked my curiosity. Do you know what a typical profit margin is? I know the profit margins in many lines of business but not this one. (For example, a big chain supermarket makes a razor-thin 2-3% profit.)


Shannon August 17, 2010 at 7:30 am

The profit margin of a big megaplex is about the same, definitely under 5%—mainly because they are all still paying on their splashy big buildings. And the concession cost is usually about 17%, popcorn and drink being the super high profit items. The other stuff you see at a concession stand is basically just there to give the patrons more options. As far as negotiating goes, depending on the market, they might not have good negotiating power at all. For example, where I live (Columbus, Ohio) we have over 25 movie theaters, ranging from a 1930’s single screen art house to a dozen 18-30 screen houses. The film companies will basically negotiate like this: play our film on x-number of screens for x-number of weeks, giving us our 75% box office, or we’ll go down the street to your competitor. When I was managing a 6-plex they did the same stuff. One of my theaters was in a little bedroom community, so Disney would basically require our theater to play every little crappy second-rate movie they put out (think “The Big Green”, a movie a goat who plays soccer) otherwise our bread-and-butter Disney hits would get shipped to the competing 8-plex down the street.
Funny note about bottom lines—I was still working for my company at a very busy 6-plex when we started building our first 24 (the first one in the midwest, actually) and my theater, which was operating in a building leased in the 70’s with incredibly low rent, and we were pulling more cash to our bottom line than the 24 was. Once that lease ended though, the owners wanted way too much, so it closed. C’est la vie.
Again I’m not taking any moral high ground on the sneaking in of food, but IMO if you purchase a ticket, and there is a clearly displayed sign that says no carry ins, you are agreeing to the terms of that purchase.


WilliamB August 17, 2010 at 10:13 am

“… IMO if you purchase a ticket, and there is a clearly displayed sign that says no carry ins, you are agreeing to the terms of that purchase.”

There’s a good argument for that stance. There are also two possible arguments against:
1) Is it really an agreement between two sufficiently equal parties freely entered into?
2) If the rules are printed on the ticket, do they actually bind the ticket buyer?

I don’t have much bargaining power as compared to the theaters – I can take it or I can leave it. So the next question is, is the thing in question important and is it easily available? Since we’re talking about a movie here the answers are “no” and “probably” (depends on where you live). So in this case I’d say the deal is freely entered into despite the lack of one-on-one bargaining.

The ticket issue references something called a contract of adhesion. The classic example is the disclaimer printed on the back of your parking lot ticket. The general rule is that contracts of adhesion don’t bind the ticket buyer. Critical elements are whether the disclaimer is first seen on the ticket (if yes then the disclaimer may not be valid); if the ticket is meant to be a contract or really is for something else, such as proving you paid (if for something else then the disclaimer may not be valid); and the two considerations above (take it or leave it means its less likely to be valid).

So if the restriction is printed on the back of the ticket I’d say the theater is out of luck. If it’s posted it may have a chance.

In reality, though, I’d be asking these questions as an exercise in ethics rather meaning to apply them soberly and seriously to whether one should take that bag of M&Ms.


WilliamB August 18, 2010 at 4:57 am

I should have been more specific: if the restriction is posted where you see if BEFORE YOU BUY YOUR TICKET, it may have a chance.

Shannon August 18, 2010 at 5:09 am

Part of my job was cleaning up auditoriums between shows, and plenty gets carried in—ranging from the drugstore candy to 40-ounce bottles of malt liquor and buckets of the Colonel’s best. On theater floors I’ve found bags of home popped corn, and the occasional bag of pot (I’m sure those people were VERY disappointed when they got home—you can’t very well go asking for it at the lost and found!) I guess for me I don’t have any hangups about any of this because none of it really surprises me. I’d bring in a box of candy if I really couldn’t go two hours without a snack, which is a huge issue in and of itself, but I’d feel kind of silly sneaking a meal in under my coat.
Thanks for the exercise! It was enjoyable to reminisce!

Lisa P. August 16, 2010 at 7:01 pm

I just can’t … I feel guilty and am worried I’ll get caught… cluck… my friends call me the “chicken” for a reason LOL.


Lisa P. August 16, 2010 at 7:07 pm

The above was for sneaking food into a theater – price tag swapping is theft ~ no question.


Laure August 16, 2010 at 7:31 pm

I’ve heard before – as some mentioned above – that movie theaters make their profit from the concessions, not ticket sales. I always assumed it was against the rules to bring your own snacks. Nope! AMC theaters – at least in my major city – only in the last year announced that going forward you could not bring your own snacks…so up until then, it was allowed, and obviously they were making $. Granted it costs around $11-$12 to see a movie here. I believe you are still permitted to bring in bottled water. I sometimes bring snacks into this and other theaters, and obviously am not sure whether the rules permit it or not, at the other theaters. Actually, I don’t think there are signs up at AMC so not sure there either. Because I live in a big city, people frequently have bags with them – brief cases, back packs, shopping bags from shopping, etc – so maybe they just determined it was too difficult to patrol and don’t care.


Shannon August 17, 2010 at 7:31 am

AMC has always had a no carry-in policy, at least all of the midwest AMCs.


Laure August 18, 2010 at 5:38 pm

Perhaps at yours, but not at the one I frequent in downtown Chicago. Here is a link to an msn article – Dec. 2009 that announces the new AMC ban on outside snacks:,1409890&post=1409890

The msn article details that AMC first tested the ban (perhaps at yours?) before it decided to apply it to all of its locations.

I tried to find the Chicago Tribune article that covered it and couldn’t find it, but it was big news around here when it went into effect 🙂


Shannon August 19, 2010 at 8:23 am

I worked for AMC from 1988-1997, and they always had a sign posted during that period at the midwest theaters, though at that time we only had two very small theaters in the Chicago market, I believe they were twins or 4-plexes.


Laure August 16, 2010 at 7:34 pm

A follow-up, re: the mom-and-pop vs. the big theaters. Popcorn, soda, candy etc at my mom-and-pop theaters is just a couple dollars, so I always get it (if I want a snack) vs. about $15 for popcorn and soda at the megaplex…and the tix are a few dollars cheaper too at the mom-and-pop. So perhaps this is the market correcting itself – I’m happy to pay the few dollars but the prices at large megaplexes are enough to drive otherwise-rule-following folks to bring in their own!


Jen August 16, 2010 at 8:35 pm

I don’t. We see movies about once a month, and I don’t want my kids (9 and 10) to think you don’t have to follow annoying, inconvenient, or stupid rules. The theaters make their money on the concessions, often losing money on ticket sales. You know how much the snacks are before you go. If the snacks are too expensive, don’t have a snack. For me, it’s not worth saving a couple bucks to have my kids think you get to pick and choose which rules to follow. Of course, I agree, the prices are way too high, and sneaking in some m&ms from home is not that big of a deal. But then some people think switching price tags isn’t a big deal, or not speaking up when the cashier misses one of your grocery items when ringing up. Everyone has a line, and I just draw mine on the honest side of movie theater snacks. I’m sure I break another rule somewhere that others would find reprehensible!


Diana August 16, 2010 at 9:47 pm

My mom always snuck snacks when I was a kid. It was the only way we could afford them. I continued this tradition as a young adult, but somewhere along the line I gave it up. I’m not one for candy at the movies but I do like the salty snacks. I never liked the anxiety of sneaking the snacks in and movie popcorn is much better than what I’m willing to bring in. I consider it part of the experience. Movie popcorn and the movie. I also don’t always get snacks. Depends on my mood.

Would like to second that I support the smaller theaters. Their snacks are usually priced reasonably (or more so than the chain theaters) so it’s easier to support getting snacks from there.


Iris August 17, 2010 at 4:23 am

I feel no guilt about sneaking in the bottle of water I always carry in my backpack – in a country with perfectly drinkable tap water, buying/selling water in plastic bottles borders – IMHO – with insanity and ecological hooliganism!

the snacks I ignore, but buying an ice-cream from the guy who comes in after the commercials is part of my movie theatre ritual 🙂


Molly On Money August 17, 2010 at 6:36 am

Our theaters allow outside food. It’s strange I know. We have a theater that has $1 movies on Wednesday. This summer we’ve gone every week to the dollar movie with our bottles of water and cookies from home.


Kayla K August 17, 2010 at 7:27 am

Movie times don’t really coincide with when I would be eating so movie snacks are no big deal for me. For the price theaters charge for snacks I may as well enjoy ice cream on the way home.


Stacy S August 17, 2010 at 8:32 am

I’ve been reading all the comments with interest, as I only go to the movies once every year or two, and coincidentally went last night! I’m in Canada, so it’s a different dollar (although not by much…) and entrance is $11.75 per person (they recently lowered it, it was over $13) and a combo of pop, popcorn and candy is $14.25! Only mega-theatres in my city. I had my Sigg with me, which I felt little guilt about as buying bottled water is something I morally won’t do, and I was going to buy a popcorn but couldn’t stomach the $4.25 for a SMALL bag. So I went without food (with the exception of a few New York fries from my mom’s snack – yes, they have a selection of restaurants in ours). I also went to the show primarily because I had gift certificates for free admission…


rhonda August 17, 2010 at 10:35 am

This is definitely a place where I tend to break the rules, though I am typically a rule-follower to the extreme. We don’t have any cheap movie places as people do in more urban areas, so our movies cost in the neighborhood of 8 dollars per person. I do often buy one popcorn from the concession stand but then any additional snacks are our own, just because otherwise we couldn’t afford it period. If we don’t go at all they are losing more money than if we bring some of our own snacks. Rationalizing I know, but sometimes you just do the best you can…


nora August 17, 2010 at 5:38 pm

Believe it or not most movie theaters whether large or small get almost all of their profits from concessions. The people that make the movies are the ones that get most the money at the box office. (I know this because I used to work at a movie theatre.) And this is why popcorn is so expensive. I get around paying for snacks at my local AMC by going on wednesdays when I can get free popcorn and yes I bring my own reusable water bottle because they would give you a free cup for water anyways.


Rachel August 18, 2010 at 5:44 am

No guilt. I have brought my own snacks into the theater, but there have also been occasions when I *have* bought food or drink, depending on the circumstances. It’s not my problem that they make their money from the concessions. If that’s not working for them, then they should figure out other ways to make a profit. Besides, what if I don’t want the junk food they offer?


Jeanine August 18, 2010 at 12:50 pm


I wonder would the response as adament if the event was an opera or a baseball game or play.


WilliamB August 18, 2010 at 5:14 pm

I predict it would not as adamant for opera or play because the US doesn’t have a tradition of snacking during those events, but it would be for baseball games. Not all stadiums prohibit you from bringing in food; in my experience the bigger limitation is what you can bring your food in. Frex, you can bring any consumable except alcohol but it has to be in soft containers (box, ziploc) rather than hard (bottle, tupperware).


Saving Her Life August 19, 2010 at 1:10 pm

Hubby and I go to the movies to rarely (the cheap theater in town plays kids movies – we have no kids). The last time we went to the movies, it was $21 for both of us! Hubby enjoys a snack during his movie, so you’re darn right I bring something in my purse for him. But with the price of tickets now, we’ll go to see a movie in a theater maybe twice a year.


greenstrivings November 13, 2012 at 2:49 pm

I love that people are so passionate about this.

I don’t bring in snacks, because I don’t feel the need to eat during the movies. As a child/teen we never purchased or brought snacks to the movies, so it was never part of my movie-going routine. Then when I was going to the movies on my own I never wanted to spend the money on the snacks — plus, you know, the whole not-hungry thing, because usually the movie is after dinner. If it’s a matinee, it’s after lunch.

That being said, a couple of months ago I took the children to the movies for the first time (ages 6 and 9) and the older child was so perturbed by my refusal to buy snacks (hello! we were going to get frozen yogurt with my BOGO coupon afterwards!) that she whipped out her wallet and bought Red Vines for herself and #2Child to share. She was about to buy a bottle of water when I suggested they just ask at the concession stand for cups of ice water, which the clerk nicely gave them.


Lynda August 28, 2023 at 5:07 pm

Why do you need food in a movie?
90 minutes without eating will not kill you.


Susan Robinson August 29, 2023 at 3:03 am

I have been guilty of smuggling candy into a theater. Never drinks, but years ago, I went with my then little boys to the movie with a neighbor and her kids. As the movie started, she opened her giant purse and proceeded to pull out McDonald’s burgers, fries, and drinks for her 3 kids. I was kind of embarrassed and frankly thought this was over the top. If they were hungry, I would have thought she would have visited McD’s on the way to the movie.


Amy August 29, 2023 at 7:01 am

I still buy popcorn in the theater, but no movie candy. Also an occasional soda. We have only one local theater and quite frankly I don’t wan them to go completely out of business.


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