$1 Family Movie Tickets Coming Back To Regal Theaters - Could This Help Save The Box Office?

Nearly halfway through 2024 and it's crystal clear that we're staring down the barrel of a bad year at the box office that the industry can ill-afford. 2023 had just started to make it seem like there was some light at the end of the tunnel, with domestic ticket sales topping $9 billion. Unfortunately, the SAG and WGA strikes last year messed up the release calendar for 2024 and now, theaters are suffering once again. Now, Regal Cinemas and regional chain Harkins Theatres are rolling out a summer program that might help — and it involves $1 movie tickets.

Regal is kicking off its Summer Movie Express at over 400 locations beginning June 11. Meanwhile, Harkins will roll out its Summer Movie Fun beginning June 3. In both cases, the chains are screening a selection of family-friendly movies aimed at kids from recent years, including "Trolls Band Together," "Sonic the Hedgehog," and "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem." Tickets cost just $1 per film, making it far more affordable than an average trip to the movies. John Curry, SVP of Commercial at Regal, had this to say about it:

"The Summer Movie Express is back in a big way this year with all movies now only $1. We are excited to welcome families, daycares, clubs, and all moviegoers back to Regal for this annual summer tradition. We have a great selection of movies each week providing endless entertainment at an affordable price."

At Regal, these showtimes are limited as they take place Tuesday and Wednesday mornings at 11 a.m. But for families in need of something to do during the summer, this offers an affordable solution. It is, somewhat transparently, absolutely designed to sell concessions. To that end, Regal offers a $5 snack pack with an optional $3 Dippin' Dots add-on. But that's not necessarily a bad thing and that may well help these theater chains bring in some much-needed revenue.

These programs may not add much to the box office, but that's not the point

These programs are rolling out just as the box office experienced its worst Memorial Day Weekend in decades, with "Furiosa" and "The Garfield Movie" falling way short of expectations. While these programs are nothing new, they do seem to be taking on fresh meaning given the year we're having so far. Ticket sales are lagging 22% behind this same period in 2023. There is no real hope on the horizon until "Deadpool & Wolverine" arrives in late July. That's an awfully long time to just tread water. Not to mention that an R-rated Marvel movie isn't going to move the needle much for the family crowd. That's where these programs start to make an awful lot of sense.

Now, are $1 tickets going to move the needle all that much as far as adding actual, meaningful dollars to the box office goes? No, not really. But that's not exactly the point either. It is, in part, meant to help fill auditoriums that might otherwise be empty. It is also, at the moment, a way to perhaps help rebuild the habit of general moviegoing again. Fewer people are going to the movies since the pandemic began and Hollywood, as well as theater chains, have to come together and figure out how to begin rebuilding that habit. Offering affordable options is certainly one way to go about that. Sony's Tom Rothman even recently argued that theaters should lower ticket prices.

Granted, this is not for new movies. We're talking about stuff like "Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse" and "Migration." This isn't going to allow families to see "Despicable Me 4," for example, on the cheap. Then again, we've seen re-releases draw crowds in recent years, with "Star Wars: The Phantom Menace" doing solid business once again earlier this year. So, older movies do still have their place on the big screen, particularly if we're talking about movies that kids already like that they might get to experience in a new way.

Should theaters expand cheap ticket programs beyond kids movies?

That's a way to get at the idea that seeing something on the big screen can be a true experience. Harkins, in particular, is playing Netflix movies such as "Leo" and "Chicken Run: Dawn of the Nugget." That offers a relatively rare chance to see an exclusive streaming movie in a theater, which is markedly different from just passively watching the movie at home.

As far as a box office magic bullet, it's hard to imagine that these programs, as they exist, can solve the numerous problems facing the industry. That said, if executed correctly, an expansion of such programs could help move the needle. There's a reason that we see an uptick in moviegoing every week on discount Tuesday. If these programs truly do bring out crowds, why not find similar angles and offer special discounts aimed at more general audiences? Could studios and theater chains come together and find a path towards something like that? At this point, it would behoove both sides to give it a try, from my point of view. Heck, it would certainly be more popular than AMC's failed experiment to charge more for better seats. Price gouging can't be the answer.

Imagine bringing back popular classics on a regular basis for lower prices. Sure, we get re-releases all the time, but they cost the same as a ticket for a new movie, generally speaking. Offer something attractive to get people in the door and buy some popcorn. Help get theaters some revenue. Help build back the habit of going to the movies. The system, as it currently exists, isn't working like it needs to. Making things more expensive is only going to further alienate certain moviegoers, particularly families. Exploring paths to cheaper moviegoing feels like a worthy experiment.

For tickets and showtimes, check out Regal's Summer Movie Express page, or Harkins' Summer Movie Fun page.