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People attend a Cineplex movie cinema after indoor dining restaurants, gyms and cinemas re-open under Phase 3 rules from COVID-19 restrictions in Toronto, Ontario, Canada July 31, 2020.CARLOS OSORIO/Reuters

Almost one and a half million Canadians visited a Cineplex movie theatre during this past weekend’s Barbenheimer bonanza, helping the North American box office soar to record heights. But some moviegoers may not have noticed that the cost of their ticket was different depending not on their choice of screen format, seating or showtime, but on which movie they decided to watch.

At a number of Cineplex locations, a general admission ticket for either Greta Gerwig’s Barbie or Christopher Nolan’s Oppenheimer cost $1 more than a ticket for slightly older releases, including Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One, Sound of Freedom and Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny. At the Cineplex Cinemas Yonge-Eglinton location in Toronto, for instance, a general admission ticket for Barbie or Oppenheimer was $14.50 before taxes or online surcharge. A ticket to Dead Reckoning – in the same type of cinema, at the same time of day – was $13.50.

Not all theatres were affected. At the Cineplex Cinemas Beaches location in Toronto’s east end, for example, a general-admission ticket to Barbie or Oppenheimer cost $12.99, the same as Dead Reckoning. But the issue was present at Cineplex locations across the country. At the company’s Scotiabank Theatre in Vancouver, a ticket for Barbie was $15.50, with Dial of Destiny priced at $14.50.

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This combination of images shows promotional art for "Barbie," left, and "Oppenheimer." (Warner Bros Pictures/Universal Pictures via AP)The Associated Press

The practice of charging more for different titles is referred to as “variable” or “dynamic pricing.” Last year, AMC Entertainment raised hackles online when the U.S. movie theatre chain charged more for tickets of The Batman than other, less widely anticipated movies.

In a statement sent to The Globe, Samantha Shecter, manager of communications for Cineplex, said, ”This is a practice that has been in place for a number of years; anticipated consumer demand is one of the factors considered when determining pricing, as well as location, a guest’s age, day of week and others. There are no surprises and a guest is fully aware of what they are paying when they select their ticket type.”

In May, 2022, Cineplex’s chief executive Ellis Jacob told The Globe that, “The way we do variable pricing is with our premium offerings: If you go to see a movie in IMAX, in Ultra AVX, you pay a premium. We haven’t gotten to the point where we have premium pricing because it’s ‘X’ product. We will look at that and do it if we see it works. But for us, it’s driven by the experience we’re offering you.”

Quiz: Should you see Barbie or Oppenheimer? Take our quiz to find out

When asked to clarify Jacob’s comments, and whether there have been films whose prices have been raised prior to Barbie and Oppenheimer, Shecter said that the Cineplex CEO was referring not to a single week of screenings but the “entire run” of a film. “We currently apply the additional charge for a number of weeks on select high-demand films. When determining ticket price, additional factors considered include the duration it will run and the anticipation of the film’s success. We do not include an upcharge on most films we show in our theatres.”

Cineplex, which operates more than 1,600 screens across the country, wasn’t the only Canadian theatre premium-pricing the Barbenheimer experience. Landmark Cinemas, Canada’s second-largest exhibitor, also priced some of its Barbie and Oppenheimer screenings $1 higher than other titles. Representatives for Landmark did not immediately respond to The Globe’s request for comment.

Earlier this month, Canada’s competition commissioner Matthew Boswell doubled down on his allegations that Cineplex was using “deceptive marketing practices” to sell tickets through its website and app. Mr. Boswell has charged that the fees applied to some tickets bought online constitute “price dripping,” a deceptive practice where customers are drawn into a purchase without full disclosure of the final cost.

In its own filings, the Toronto-based exhibitor said that the Competition Bureau’s claims were without merit, as moviegoers are told about fees they may face from the start of the purchase process.

With files from The Canadian Press

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