With nine-dollar movies and fifty-dollar concerts, do you have to be a millionaire to have a good time?

Granted, it’s New York, not exactly known as Bargain Central. And okay, so it’s only one theater so far. But let’s see, how do we put this delicately? NINE FREAKIN’ DOLLARS!!! For the privilege of sitting through, say, The Saint? Are they insane? Pretty soon, every time you want to see a movie, you’re going to have to refinance your house. On April 18, with no advance warning, Sony/Loews theaters sucker-punched moviegoers at its flagship Manhattan Lincoln Square theater by hiking the already-steep $8.50 ticket price to an even $9. And if the economic woes of New Yorkers are a cause for rejoicing in the rest of the country, America should stop laughing: Price hikes are coming to a theater near you. Nor is it just movies. Whether it’s $30 for a new book that promises the real scoop on Humphrey Bogart, up to $102 to see Tina Turner this summer at Radio City Music Hall (that’s $51 a leg!), or $16.98 for a No Doubt CD, the era of cheap thrills is over. ”The price of entertainment has gotten completely out of hand,” says Ralph Nader, America’s granddaddy of consumer activism. ”They’re socking it to the public.” Naturally, the sockees aren’t amused by the trend. ”I don’t like it at all,” says Lynette Quintero, 18, inside America’s priciest multiplex. ”If they keep raising it more, then we will come less. I’m not going to pay $10. I’ll wait for it to come out on cable.” According to the New York-based firm Audience Research & Analysis, in the past 20 years, while the cost of living has risen 50 percent nationwide, the price of a movie ticket has tripled, hovering between $6 and $8 in most major cities (see map, previous page). Sony/Loews, which has cineplexes in 15 states, isn’t the only chain that will be turning this summer into a cruel one. Both the Cineplex Odeon and United Artists chains are contemplating price hikes. ”We’re going up across the board, and history tells you that the other chains will follow suit,” says Sony/Loews’ vice president of advertising and publicity, Marc Pascucci.

It’s not like the movies themselves are getting better (take McHale’s Navy… please). So why do ticket prices keep skyrocketing? Theater chains, which set the prices, cite two main factors. First, execs say they must offset the rising costs of running high-tech newfangled movie palaces, complete with all the gee-whiz sound-system trimmings. Second — and perhaps more important — the studios, cranking out more and more wham-bang blockbusters (budgets for which often soar to $100 million with marketing costs), are demanding a bigger cut of ticket revenues from theater owners — sometimes as much as 80 percent (see chart, right). In other words, you guessed it, moviegoers are picking up the tab for Hollywood’s spending binge.

Theater owners also insist that Americans are getting off cheap, given that it costs between $12 and $20 to see Independence Day in cities such as Munich, Paris, and Tokyo. ”I think movies are still a bargain,” says Cineplex Odeon executive Howard Lichtman. ”Actually, movies are a steal.”