Customer buys refreshments at movie concession stand. (AP photo)
DETROIT (Det. Free Press) -- Joshua Thompson loves the movies.
But he hates the prices theaters charge for concessions like pop and candy.
This week, the 20-something security technician from Livonia decided to do something about it: He filed a class action in Wayne County Circuit Court against his local AMC theater in hopes of forcing theaters statewide to dial down snack prices.
"He got tired of being taken advantage of," said Thompson's lawyer, Kerry Morgan of Wyandotte. "It's hard to justify prices that are three- and four-times higher than anywhere else."
American Multi Cinema, which operates the AMC theater in Livonia, wouldn't comment on the suit. A staffer at the National Association of Theatre Owners in Washington, D.C., angrily hung up the phone when asked about industry snack pricing practices.
Although consumer experts predicted that the case will be dismissed, it struck a chord Friday with area moviegoers, who said they're tired of being soaked on movie munchies.
"The prices are ridiculous," Rebecca Motley, 55, a self-employed Southfield physician, said while leaving the AMC Star Southfield 20.
Motley said she and her office manager spent $5 each for morning movie tickets and $11 each for soft drinks and popcorn.
"When I was a kid, $1 could get you into the movies and buy you a pop and popcorn. But not anymore," Motley said. "I don't know how kids can go on their own to a movie anymore."
Timothy Fells, 29, part owner of a Redford Township gym, agreed with Motley.
"Movie concession prices are extremely high, and that's why I don't stop at the snack bar very often," he said while leaving the AMC theater in Southfield.
Thompson didn't want to be interviewed because he doesn't want any notoriety, Morgan said. But Thompson said in his lawsuit that he used to take his own pop and candy to the AMC in Livonia until the theater posted a sign banning the practice.
On Dec. 26, he paid $8 for a Coke and a package of Goobers chocolate-covered peanuts at the Livonia theater -- nearly three times the $2.73 he paid for the same items at a nearby fast-food restaurant and drug store, the suit said.
The suit accused AMC theaters of violating the Michigan Consumer Protection Act by charging grossly excessive prices for snacks.
The suit seeks refunds for customers who were overcharged, a civil penalty against the theater chain and any other relief Judge Kathleen Macdonald might grant.
Two consumer lawyers predicted that Macdonald will dismiss the suit.
"It's a loser," said Gary Victor, an Eastern Michigan University business law professor. He said state Supreme Court decisions in 1999 and 2007 exempted most regulated businesses from the Michigan Consumer Protection Act.
Added Ian Lyngklip, a nationally known consumer lawyer in Southfield: "Movie theaters are regulated, so the lawsuit won't go anywhere"
Victor, an avid moviegoer, agreed that snack prices are excessive at theaters. That's why he shuns the concession counter unless he's with a date.
Griping about excessive prices at the theater concession is a time-honored tradition, says Paul Dergarabedian, an analyst for www.hollywood.com, a movie industry website.
"But like high airline prices, it's just one of those things that we've become accustomed to because we don't have any control over it," he added.
Although movie ticket sales are down -- 1.2 billion tickets were sold last year compared with 1.6 billion in 2002 -- he said a difficult economy mainly is to blame, not snack prices.
To cope with the issue, some consumers eat before or after they go to the movies, or resort to smuggling.
Fells said he sometimes smuggles Gummi Bears into the theater to save money.
Kristy Belanger, 20, a real estate secretary from Redford Township who showed up at the AMC in Livonia on Friday to see a movie with her boyfriend, concealed two bottles of Pepsi in her purse.
"I did it to save money, and I feel like I did," she said, adding that what she saved on Pepsi enabled her to buy a $4.74 serving of nachos to share with her beau.
By David Ashenfelter, Detroit Free Press Staff Writer