Regal Cinemas, the biggest movie-theater chain in the United States, will start to search ticket-buyers’ bags before they enter any of its movie theaters.
The announcement, on the Regal Cinemas website, comes in the wake of the July 23 shooting at a Trainwreck screening in Lafayette, Louisiana, and an August 5 attack — the assailant used a hatchet and a pellet gun — at a showing of Mad Max: Fury Road in Nashville, Tennessee. It reads:
Security issues have become a daily part of our lives in America. Regal Entertainment Group wants our customers and staff to feel comfortable and safe when visiting or working in our theatres. To ensure the safety of our guests and employees, backpacks and bags of any kind are subject to inspection prior to admission. We acknowledge that this procedure can cause some inconvenience and that it is not without flaws, but hope these are minor in comparison to increased safety.
Regal Cinemas did not immediately return a request for comment.
Regal’s change in policy was released three days after a survey conducted by consumer research firm C4 that found nearly half of ticket buyers were willing to pay more for improved security at movie theaters. About half were willing to pay an additional $1 fee; only 23 percent were game to add $2 to the already-significant cost of a movie ticket.
At the time, Ben Spergel, C4 executive vice president of consumer insights, told Variety that “moviegoers are telling us that they’re starting to see the value of security” and compared security to more costly enhanced entertainment experiences, like Imax or 3D. “You may also have to pay more for a safer experience.”
Just to unpack that for a minute: Is he really saying that expecting to not murdered at the movies is the functional equivalent of seeing a movie that isn’t in 3D? That staying alive through the end credits is some extra-special treat, like an Imax screen?
Spergel also said that the burden of that cost would ultimately be on the ticket-buyers, and that “an extra dollar wouldn’t cover what you need to do.”
Movie ticket prices hit an all-time high this summer, an average of $8.61 a pop — which, to city-dwellers, sounds like a dream, but remember that number is a nationwide average — a 3.4 percent increase from the same time the previous year. The reason for the rise? Big 3D releases, like Mad Max and Jurassic World, contributed, as did an uptick in luxury seating.
As more and more potential moviegoers decide it’s not worth the hassle or the money to see a flick in theaters, opting instead to cue up whatever they like on Netflix in the comfort of their own home where the water is free and the snacks are already paid for, theaters are scrounging around for ways to keep profit margins high enough to keep themselves in business. (The best money still comes from concessions, where profit margins are high and theaters don’t have to split the money with anyone else. A conspiracy theory for you: Theaters are just capitalizing on a couple of tragedies as an excuse to search everyone’s bags for those snacks you brought from home.)
Regal Cinema’s statement also arrives within weeks of the close of Aurora shooter James Holmes’ trial. Holmes was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole; now, the victims and survivors of the Aurora theater shooting move forward with their lawsuit against Cinemark, which owns the Century Aurora 16. The lawsuit alleges Cinemark should have done more to protect the moviegoers when Holmes opened-fire, killing 12 and wounding 70. That trial is set for May 2016.
It’s possible, then, that Regal is just as concerned with preventing lawsuits than with preventing massacres — or, at least, that it is far more likely they will be able to stop the latter than have any significant impact on the former. Just like it’s possible that the meaningful way of addressing gun violence in a country that experiences this type of atrocity with alarming regularity is not for the person who rips your ticket stub in two to also paw through every purse for a firearm.
Maybe those resources would be better spent on improving the defective background check system that has loopholes big enough for the likes of Charleston shooter Dylann Roof to leap through, or by banning ammunition magazines with high numbers of rounds, like the Colorado legislature did less than a year after the Aurora shooting. Maybe we shouldn’t get too excited about procedures that create the illusion of safety and should focus our energies more on changes that would actually make us safer.
Maybe Regal Cinemas said it best. This bag-checking procedure is not without flaws.