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AMC’s new Sightline pricing plan is an insult to moviegoers

AMC Theatres is rolling out a new tier-based ticket pricing system to accompany its existing Stubs membership program.Evan Agostini/Invision/AP/file

AMC Theatres is rolling out a new tier-based ticket pricing system to accompany its existing Stubs membership program. Called Sightline at AMC, it’s currently in select theaters in New York City, Kansas City, and Chicago. As of this writing, it has not yet come to Boston. AMC plans to install this feature in all of its theaters, so it’s just a matter of time before Bostonians will have to make these choices.

I went to the AMC 34th Street 14 in Manhattan to experience this new feature. The Sightline system has three options: Standard, Value, and Preferred. Standard Sightline costs the original price of a regular ticket and covers seats that are closest to the aisles. The Value Sightline option offers a $2 discount if you sit in the front row of seats or the wheelchair-accessible seating area. Preferred Sightline, which encompasses most of the seats in the middle of the theater, costs $1 more than the Standard ticket.


AMC Stubs also offers three options: the free Insider level, and two paid levels, Premiere and A-List. Any Stubs member can get the Value Sightline seat discount. If one is an A-List member ($24.95/month), the Preferred Sightline seat fee is waived.

I am not a Stubs member. Online, I bought a ticket for seat G14, a Standard Sightline seat five seats in from the left aisle. It cost me $27.98. Believe it or not, it had the same view as seat G13 just to my left, a Preferred Sightline seat that would have cost me $28.98. Now, imagine you’re on a date and your date buys seats G13 and G14 and makes you sit in the cheaper seat. I hope you dump that miser!

You could argue that the AMC ticketing plan is just catching up with how we already pay for sporting events, concerts, and Broadway shows — but the comparison makes no damn sense. If you buy a ticket for the bleachers in Fenway Park, you’re going to get a different view of the game than if you purchased seats behind home plate. The same with a concert or a Broadway show — the distance from the stage will determine how good your view is.


Movie theaters are different. Even sitting in the front row, with the aggravation of having to crane your neck to watch the movie, you get a view of the entire screen. AMC agrees with me here; in its website’s FAQ section, it says “we design our auditoriums to ensure that every seat provides a great viewing experience.” So what’s the point?

Celebrities and pundits are criticizing the theater chain. On Twitter, actor Elijah Wood drew attention to the movie theater as “a sacred democratic space for all,” noting that AMC’s new initiative “would essentially penalize people for lower income and reward for higher income.” Film critic John Rocha tweeted “look, this is some classist [expletive].”

When I first heard about the plan a couple weeks ago, I felt insulted. Why would anyone pay for this “privilege” when people can simply move to an empty, more expensive seat if the theater’s not full?

For AMC Theatres, that extra dough will come in handy; according to NPR, the theater chain lost almost $700 million in the first nine months of 2022, $1.27 billion in 2021 and $4.6 billion in pandemic-stricken 2020.


But “Sightline” may not solve the chain’s money problems. People are staying home to stream movies or, in the case of the weird theater-to-streaming model that befell movies like “Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery,” simply waiting a month until a film shows up on a platform like Netflix or Hulu.

Hollywood is also making fewer movies for theatrical release. “Top Gun: Maverick” and “Avatar: The Way of Water” broke box-office records, but that’s just two movies. Tentpole movies by the likes of Marvel and DC, which bring in audiences, are not being released every week.

Over the past decade or so, movie theaters have tried to justify the often outrageous price for a ticket (it’s $21.49 for an IMAX ticket at AMC Boston Common, plus a $2.49 online ticketing fee) by offering entrees, booze, and recliner seats to go with the standard overpriced popcorn, soda, and candy. They’ve also offered different movie viewing options like IMAX, 3-D, 4DX (where the seats shake violently and spray you with water during the film), enhanced Dolby sound, and, in the case of AMC, the ominous-sounding BigD experience.

I can understand paying more for “BigD energy.” A positive movie experience, one where the audience is in tune with the movie and everybody’s having a good time, is worth the price of admission.


But why would I pay extra just to sit down? There had to be something special about “Sightline” that I wasn’t getting.

I wanted to take a methodical approach to my research. So, I went online to find the most crowded movie house in the AMC theater, one with enough people I could interview. Turns out it was the IMAX screening of “Avatar: The Way of Water,” which drew in about 20 people, not terrible for a Wednesday night. (Sightline pricing affects screenings after 4 p.m. every day except Discount Tuesdays.)

My goal was to talk to people who bought Preferred Sightline seats and ask them why they did. I’m no investigative reporter, but I can ask a simple question. I got to the theater in time for the previews, 10 minutes before the 6 p.m. screening time.

And I was met with an empty theater.

I waited. And waited. I sat in the front row. I took pictures of the view from various “tiers.” I cleared my throat so I could robustly boo Nicole Kidman’s cheesy ad for AMC.

Eventually, a few folks trickled in. As soon as one sat in a Preferred seat, I pounced.

Turns out he was a Stubs member who didn’t have to pay extra. I heard the same thing from several other people. And then the inevitable happened.

Since the theater was still practically empty, some new folks came in, sat in a Standard seat, looked around cautiously, and then decided to move to a Preferred seat. It was like watching a game of musical chairs.


Nobody I talked to in a Preferred seat paid the, um, preferred price. My mission to discover why people would pay more dough for a movie seat failed miserably. So much for my career as an investigative journalist. The reporters over on the Spotlight team can sleep at night.

As for the experience: I know it’s a measly extra buck for the Preferred seat, but it’s the principle of the thing for me. With the online purchase fee, that Standard Sightline ticket still cost me almost $30. That didn’t include popcorn, AND I had to bring my own BigD energy.

Odie Henderson is the Boston Globe's film critic.