The expectation to pre-purchase movie tickets has gotten way out of hand

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Written by: Gene Cole, Opinions Editor

One of the things I think a lot of people have forgotten about recent blockbusters like Avengers: Infinity War is the way people had to buy tickets just to see it on day one. Even though I was by myself, I still needed to pre-buy a ticket with a reserved seat several weeks in advance just to avoid being stuck in the front row — or to see the movie at all. Theaters for the film were filled for the next week or two, and some people had to plan their movie trip nearly a month in advance.

Prepaying for our media has become massively common, but perhaps more so than it should be. This has been true with video games for a while. On one hand, it isn’t inherently negative — it makes things easier for those with disabilities who can’t stand in lines, and reserved seating makes it so you can sit with your friends without reserving seats. It also ensures you will always see the movie you want to see, and know when it’ll be sold out before you travel to the theater or buy your ticket.

But the benefits have come at a severe cost, as it becomes more and more the norm rather than an alternative. On a critical level, the effort to fill seats before a film’s release pushes a lot of blind consumption. Already, film reviews often face review embargos to prevent critics from discussing or spoiling the film too soon before its release. By pre-ordering so far in advance, viewers have nearly zero opportunity to know anything about the film besides what advertisers suggest. Pre-purchasing prevents us from consuming something because it’s good, and instead we have to gamble on the possibility of it being good.

This expectation of pre-ordering can also cause films to become an event, rather than art. We wait for the release to celebrate characters and a “once in a lifetime” story that’s built up to slowly from the film’s announcement. But the audience members aren’t the ones deciding it’s monumental — the producers make those decisions for us. They focus their marketing on highlighting the importance of release itself, rather than trying to sell us on the film’s quality. This isn’t to say going to a theater should be a somber experience, but it should mean more than just a place to spend time and money.

This pre-order expectation also hurts a lot of the benefits that pre-ordering is able to provide. Now that everyone is using the pre-order system, those who do have disabilities face the very problems they’re meant to be able to avoid. They’re right back to getting swept up in crowds — rather than getting reserved seats that benefit them, they instead need to plan way further in advance than regular viewers.

Big groups, meanwhile, have to go through a whole other big mess to organize trips. It’s hard enough to plan a week in advance, but planning for a two-to-three-hour movie, the beforehand meeting, and the travel up to a month ahead of time is ludicrous.

This certainly isn’t the biggest problem plaguing theaters, but there is a lot of fear to be had at how normal this is becoming with our theaters. As it grows in popularity, the downsides continue to grow with them while the benefits fully disappear. Pre-ordering tickets needs to be an alternative for the people who need to do so or who can use the service well, because it just doesn’t work as something to depend on.