Why the Movie Industry Is Squeezing You This Summer

PORTLAND, Ore. ( TheStreet) -- Even if you're mad at Steven Spielberg for editing E.T. to swap out guns for walkie-talkies and loathe George Lucas for continually revising the Star Wars films, can we simply agree that these men know how to make and sell blockbuster films -- even if they can't stop futzing with them?

Good, because it's not them who are inevitably going to suck every bit of pleasure out of movies as we know them. It's the industry around them. In their view, it doesn't matter how The Lone Ranger did this past weekend, because Disney ( DIS) and all the other studios have wrecked the movie business beyond repair.

At a panel discussion at the University of Southern California's School of Cinematic Arts in June, Spielberg noted theatrical movie releases are now competing against new, more personal and more riveting forms of entertainment. Meanwhile, Hollywood just keeps throwing money in the hopes that Mars Needs Moms, John Carter and Rise of the Guardians won't just blow up in their faces.

"There's eventually going to be a big meltdown," Spielberg said. "There's going to be an implosion where three or four or maybe even a half-dozen of these mega-budgeted movies go crashing into the ground, and that's going to change the paradigm again."

Lucas chimed in and declared that as studios narrow their focus and gamble more cash on lowest-common-denominator films carried largely by effects, moviegoers will continue to turn away in droves. It's the consequence of that exodus that should have moviegoers nervous, Lucas explains.

"You're going to end up with fewer theaters, bigger theaters with a lot of nice things," he said. "Going to the movies will cost 50 bucks or 100 or 150 bucks, like what Broadway costs today, or a football game. It'll be an expensive thing. The movies will sit in the theaters for a year, like a Broadway show does."

The only thing surprising about that declaration is the dollar amount, and even that's not too far off the mark. In the past 20 years, according to BoxOfficeMojo, the average price of a movie ticket has nearly doubled from $4.14 in 1993 to $7.98 just last year. That's more than $2 ahead of the rate of inflation and only thinly veils the ticket prices of around $20 fans have shelled out for 3-D and IMAX ( IMAX) showings in certain markets.

The $50 ticket has already arrived, with Viacom ( VIA)-owned Paramount charging that much for showings of Brad Pitt zombie film World War Z in Houston, San Diego, Atlanta, Philadelphia and Irvine, Calif. For that price, fans got an early screening of the film, 3-D glasses to keep, a small popcorn and soda, a poster and a reserved copy of the DVD once it is released.

Why do they have to sell you this whole package right this minute? Because where movies used to have to charm you or impress you into buying a ticket, they now have to trap you. Now that high-definition televisions have improved the home viewing experience, streaming and on-demand services have nullified the need to leave your home and television and video game producers are creating far more compelling zombie narratives in AMC's ( AMCX) The Walking Dead and The Last Of Us on Sony's ( SNE) Playstation 3, it's gotten tougher to get you to come out to a zombie movie that bears little to no resemblance to the popular book it's named after.

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