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The £40 cinema ticket – is any film worth the price?

Rising cinema prices are not a new matter of concern – least of all in London’s West End, where paying the equivalent of a mid-budget restaurant meal to see the disposable blockbuster of the week (add popcorn at your peril) has been standard for years. But the venerable Odeon Leicester Square, back in action after an extensive and expensive refurbishment – which, crucially, shrank the number of seats in its main auditorium – has taken bold new steps in testing cinemagoers’ moth-like attraction to the city lights.

Twitter erupted on Monday as a slew of comments pointed out that a single ticket to the swanky cinema’s top festive draw, Mary Poppins Returns, could set you back as much as £40.75. With a fair wind and a favourable Ryanair deal, you could pay less to pop over to Barcelona and see the film there. Advance critical word for Mary Poppins Returns suggests it is a splendid family jaunt – but are you excited enough to splash out £200 on taking the kids to see it?

More expensive than a Ryanair flight … Odeon Leicester Square.

More expensive than a Ryanair flight … Odeon Leicester Square. Photograph: FSR1/Alamy

Stung into action by this iffy publicity for its flagship venue, Odeon was quick to point out that the tweets don’t tell the whole story: £40 merely represents the top end of a pricing system that varies depending on the day, the date, and the type and location of seat. Settle for a less plush seat (the “Luxe Classic” as opposed to the “Luxe Recliner” – everything’s luxe at Odeon, you see) in the back row for a matinee show and you can experience souped-up sound and vision for a mere £10.75; not exactly a bargain relative to the cheap-and-cheerful Prince Charles Cinema around the corner, but less likely to raise eyebrows.

Either way, Odeon argues, “it offers fantastic value compared to tickets for other popular destinations like the theatre, concerts or live sports”. Which is all very well, you might say, save for the fact that projecting a film on to a screen isn’t quite equivalent to live entertainment either as a unique experience or as a feat of human labour, however comfy the seat. At a time when Odeons and Vues are battling the alluringly cheap, convenient likes of Netflix to retain their audiences, is treating cinema as theatre the way forward? Is any film worth £40?

A silver spoonful of sugar … Mary Poppins Returns.

A silver spoonful of sugar … Mary Poppins Returns. Photograph: Disney

Cinema is no less valuable an art form than theatre or live music. I’ve paid upwards of £40 to see some very forgettable plays in my time, and a comparative pittance for cinema experiences that will stay with me for ever, from Alfonso Cuarón’s dizzily space-shifting Gravity in 3D to a lustrously restored Lawrence of Arabia at the BFI Southbank. Would I retrospectively swap those investments round, in terms of how they rewarded me in turn? Probably. And if you’re confident that Mary Poppins Returns (or Aquaman, or even the upcoming Transformers spinoff Bumblebee) will blow your mind to that extent, then go forth and recline. But let’s not pretend the luxury cinema movement – and Odeon is far from the first chain to hike its prices, pad its chairs and fancy up its bar menu to promote a better-than-home experience – has been forged to advance the art of cinema. Truly great films change your life at any price.


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