[ignore]Image credit: wikidave[/ignore]

In the spirit of hard-hitting investigative journalism, my partner and I recently set off to Melbourne’s outer northern suburbs in search of a Golden Beast I’d heard spoken of in furtive whispers, but had never experienced in the flesh: the massive suburban multiplex cinema. I’d always wanted to go, but I’ve never had a reason to venture further than the city or its very inner suburbs to get my film fix. (And one of the perks of this gig is that I usually see films for free.) But here we were in the belly of the beast, with its huge curving staircase painted matte gold, and indigo carpets dusted with tiny, lollypop-coloured triangles – a temple of 90s opulence. We had come to see The Avengers, and this is what we bought:

2 adult tickets = $18.50 each
1 chocolate choc top = $5.40
1 (very) small bag of self-serve mixed lollies = $3.45
1 small popcorn = $6.50
1 small Coca-Cola = $5.00
Total: $57.35

Even though we’d come to investigate the price of a night out at a blockbuster theatre, I was still gob-smacked – what a rip-off! Especially since we’d opted for the cheaper 2D viewing; a 3D ticket would have set us each back $21.50.

Friends who have returned to Australia in the last 18 months from living in the United States or Europe have commented on the seemingly high general admission ticket prices at cinemas here. ‘It was the first thing I noticed when I got back from France’, one good friend – and avid cinemagoer – told me when we caught up. Another friend said he ‘couldn’t believe it!’ when it cost almost 50 bucks for him and his mum to see The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. But, though it certainly seems pricey to see a film here, do we really have high admission prices compared to, say, Paris or New York?

To work this out I’ve compared the price for a full adult ticket at blockbuster cinemas here with equivalent establishments in Paris and New York. (I’m leaving the price of food well out of this – mainly because I can’t recall a time when cinema snacks, like airport food, was ever cheap.) So, if you’re an adult in Australia with no concessions, expect to pay around $18 at one of the big cinema franchises. At the MK2 or UGC multiplexes in Paris you’ll pay 10€, or just a little under A$13. And you’ll pay almost exactly the same if you go to an AMC cinema in New York City, where an adult ticket costs US$13.

Of course, to understand who really pays more we need to look at the average disposable household incomes of each country. But finding current figures for this is not as straightforward as you might think. For one thing, the most comprehensive data comes mainly from the last census of 2008–09. (For a breakdown of some of the polemics of number-crunching when it comes to Australian family incomes, see economist and blogger Matt Cowgill’s 2011 post on the subject here.) I’m using data compiled by the Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD), who draw on its member countries’ latest census results, amongst other things, to provide a independent and thorough analysis.

According to the OECD’s Better Life Index, ‘the average household net-adjusted disposable income in Australia is 27 039 USD’ (A$27 016.51) per year, with France a fraction higher at US$27 508 (A$27 478.57).The figure for the United States, however, is significantly greater: US$37 690(A$37 645.15). Using these figures, we can calculate what proportion of the average disposable income an adult ticket price is: in Australia, it’s .0667%; in France, .0469%; and in the US, .0345%.

This reveals that, in terms of the proportion of disposable incomes, France pays 70% and the US only 51% of what we do. Put another way, by comparing disposable household incomes and adult ticket prices, it’s evident that in Australia we pay almost double the US and nearly a third more than the French – and the latter have almost exactly the same disposable household income as we do.

When it’s all added up, it’s clear that we’re not imagining things; we do pay more in Australia to see films than our French and American counterparts. A great deal more, in fact. However, what we know too is that we don’t have an equivalent population base frequenting cinemas as regularly as in France or the US: ticket prices in this country are higher largely because fewer people see films on a regular basis. But here we face an obvious paradox: presumably more Australians would go to cinemas more often if it was more affordable, which, in turn, would make the industry more financially robust. But this is far more complicated to implement than it sounds. Whatever the case may be, I can’t envisage a time in the near future when I’ll leave the Golden Beast not feeling fiscally violated.

Kate Harper is a Killings Film and TV columnist. She studied cinema at the University of Melbourne and now works as a freelance writer.