Varsity Theatre: Movie on a Budget

Going to see a movie is no longer a cheap endeavor. Ticket prices always seem to be on the rise and concessions are ungodly expensive. Of course, your $5 to $10 popcorn is often over-buttered, under-salted and generally cold. So, in order to preserve the honor of the movie theatre industry and bring you the best and cheapest movie-going experience in Des Moines, this week I visited Varsity Theatre (1207 25th St.), a local, single-screen theatre.

Varsity Theatre’s low-priced, high quality, independent films and self-proclaimed “Best Concession Prices in Town” have become a tradition since the theater opened its doors in 1939. So naturally, being the bargain-hunter that I am, I decided to partake and went to check out the Academy-Award-nominated, Golden-Globe-winning, Critics’-Choice-Award-winning, BAFTA-award-winning, overwhelmingly fabulous film, The Artist.

We approached the traditional glass box office and I started to pull out my $10 bill and student ID, noting the cheap ticket prices pasted to the window:

  • Matinees: $5
  • Adult: $7.50
  • Children: $6
  • Students with IDs (Sun.-Thurs.)- $6
  • Senior Citizens: $6
I then compared Varsity Theatre’s prices to those of other local competitors, being sure to compare the same movie on the same night at approximately the same time. Only two other local theaters were still showing The Artist, but Fleur Cinema and Cafe’s tickets ranged from $6.50 to $8.50 and Carmike Wynnsong’s tickets cost $6.50 for children and $9 for an adult, even more on weekends. Century 20’s tickets, at Jordan Creek, were the most expensive in the Des Moines Area, $9.25 for adults Sunday through Thursday and a whopping $9.75 on Fridays and Saturdays.

But of course, if their concession prices were supposedly the best in town, it was the concessions I needed to look into. I asked for my typical movie-going snack, a small unbuttered popcorn with extra salt, which I have often found to be in the neighborhood of $4. I paid $1.50. The extra large bucket was only $4.25 and was roughly five times larger than my small bucket. There was a case full of the typical movie theater candy, but instead of the typical $3 this candy ranged from .80 to $2.00.

When my roommate and I walked into the theater, we were surprised to find that of the 455 seats available in the theater, only two of them were occupied: Ours. We were the only ones present at the 9:30 p.m. Thursday showing of The Artist .

The screen was lit up with green and blue spotlights; it was silent, still and surprisingly free of advertisements. Even after the lights had dimmed, only one commercial ran, it was an ad for the Iranian foreign film A Separation.

I am entirely unqualified to be a movie critic, but I think The Artist‘s nominations and awards speak for themselves. I highly recommend taking the time to see itperhaps even drop by the charming and cheap Varsity Theatre.

$2.50 change and ticket stub

For $7.50 I enjoyed an award-winning movie and a small tub of popcorn.


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