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And… that’s why I smuggle snacks into the movie theater

Movie theaters rely on inflated concession prices to break even. Does that make it unethical to sneak in outside food?

As studios release more big-budget tentpole films, theaters keep less of the take, thanks to sliding-scale profit-share agreements. Increasingly, cinemas must rely on alternative revenue sources just to break even. As Anousha Sakoui and Christopher Palmeri write,

That’s where concessions come in. At Regal, the largest [theater] chain, the gross profit margin on items like popcorn, soda and candy exceeds 86 percent.

Without overpriced concessions to pad their ledgers, the big theater franchises would lose hundreds of millions of dollars annually.

Knowing that, should I feel guilty about sneaking outside food into the theater? Snack-smuggling games the system and eliminates the theater’s only chance at turning a profit on my attendance. Do I have a moral responsibility to uphold the theaters’ business model—even if that means dropping $5.49 on a box of Jujubees?

Maybe so. After, I don’t need to see the latest Star Wars movie in the theater. No one’s forcing me to attend. In fact, I’d probably have a better experience if I waited a few months and watched new releases at home. My living room has a very lax policy on outside food.

Still, I haven’t stopped my surreptitious theater snacking. I’m afflicted with an unethical trifecta: too impatient to wait for video release, too gluttonous to go hungry, and too cheap to pay exorbitant concession prices.