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High Prices for Low Quality Films Keeping Families Away From Theaters, Experts Say

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Kelli Martin Stuart rarely takes her three young kids to the movies these days. 

Tickets are expensive, the theaters are becoming increasingly run down and DVDs come out so quickly that it just isn’t worth it to Stuart, a freelance writer and mom blogger based out of Tampa, Florida, to shell out the cash.

“I generally pay to see a movie with my kids once a year because the price is so high. I took all three children to see a matinee movie in September and it cost $36. That's a lot of money for one afternoon. Last year, all five of us attended a matinee showing in 3D and it was $60! There is a vast array of things we could do with that amount of money as a family that would be more fun and exciting,” Stuart, who chronicles life with her kids and her husband on the blog MinivansareHot.com tells Fox411.

“Seeing a movie isn't the experience it used to be. Movie theaters tend to be so sterile and bland that paying that kind of money just for a matinee isn't worth it for our family. In fact, I can count on two fingers the number of times we have gone to the movies as a whole family (my husband included). It just ends up being a lot of money for a very short experience.”

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Stuart isn’t alone. The reluctance of parents across the country to pay the high price of movie tickets is growing, and is one of the contributing factors to weak box office returns this holiday season, experts say. Movie tickets now hover between $8 and $12 depending on the time of day of the show. An Imax or 3-D ticket can run up to nearly $20. Add in $5 popcorn, candy and sodas and a family of five is looking to spend more than $100 for two hours of an afternoon.

In fact movie attendance this year is expected to drop to its lowest in 16 years. The past two weekends, which have seen openings of two sequels to popular movies -- “Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows” and “Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked” -- have been Hollywood’s worst of this year.

“Holmes” was the top-selling movie from the past weekend taking in just under $40 million according to figures from BoxOffice Mojo.com. That was down from the $62.3 million made during the opening weekend of the first installment of the series two years ago. “Chipwrecked” came in at number 2, making approximately $23.5 million, around half what the first two installments of the series did during their runs.

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Domestic movie attendance has plummeted since peaking at 1.6 billion in 2002 to what experts predict will be around 1.3 billion for 2011.

“I think there are numerous factors as to why the box office is down this holiday season, but there is no doubt that the tough economy is playing a role,” explains Hollywood.com box office analyst Paul Dergarabedian.  “At this time of the year, household budgets are stretched to the limit and movie ticket prices certainly impact families more than any other group due to the multiple tickets purchased at the same time.”

Dergarabedian adds that the market for family friendly fare also seems to be saturated this season, so movies are competing for a more and more fractured audience.

“With one G-rated film and six PG-rated films in the Top 20 box office chart, there seems to be an overwhelming number of family-friendly films chasing the same audience and this may have hurt the business of late,” Dergarabedian told Fox411.

Some critics argue that it’s not the cost that deters moviegoers this season, but the quality of the films at the box office.

“On the one hand, yes: There's not necessarily a lot of money left over once people's holiday gift and travel budgets meet their everyday cost of living. That said, the choice between seeing garbage like ‘New Year's Eve’ or ‘Sherlock Holmes 2’ or ‘Alvin and the Chipmunks 3’ and simply staying home isn't really much of a choice at all,” says Movieline editor S.T. VanAirsdale.

In order to get inside consumers' wallets, be they single or those with a family, VanAirsdale says studios may need to focus less on the quantity of films they are producing and more on the quality.

“It's absolutely fair to say prohibitive ticket prices aren't worth it for bad movies, especially for families," he explains. "But the same is even true for individuals, who can look at new releases a week or two down the line and decide to save their money for movies like "Dragon Tattoo," "War Horse" and other films they genuinely want to see.” 

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