Movie Theaters Are Stealing Disney's Best Idea

Collectible popcorn buckets are a way for theaters to make more money at the concession stand.

It's no secret that movie theater owners are struggling for business right now. One source of revenue is through popcorn sales, which is why some independent owners want to add intermissions for more snack breaks, and other theaters now deliver concession snacks directly to your home. Some are even branching out into bespoke candy and (possibly) booze. But there's another source of revenue that more cinemas are starting to take advantage of: the collectible popcorn bucket.

Collectible popcorn buckets mean big money

Using collectible popcorn buckets isn't a new idea; at Disney theme parks, the most popular souvenir is the Mickey Mouse-shaped popcorn bucket. I visited Disney World in Orlando last year for the first time, and I can attest to seeing more than a few stashed away in passing strollers. Special-edition popcorn buckets have even been known to cause hours-long lines.

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More recently, the smashing success of these collectible popcorn buckets has made the leap to movie theaters. In 2019, AMC Theatres, in partnership with Disney, released an R2-D2 drink and popcorn holder to promote Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker. The Hollywood Reporter notes that the bucket, which cost $50, was a big hit.

The Dune 2 popcorn bucket and other big earners

A new collectible popcorn bucket was recently released to promote the upcoming release of Dune 2. It retails for $24.99, and more importantly, it has grabbed people's attention for—how do I say this politely?—looking like a sex toy. (I'll blame this Saturday Night Live sketch for where my mind went.)

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Other popcorn buckets have historically sold well at cinemas, too, like the limited-edition Barbie bucket shaped like a Corvette convertible and the 1970 Dodge Charger–shaped bucket promoting Fast X, both of which sold out in 2023. These containers can be as simple as a hat like the one worn by the eponymous Wonka, or as elaborate as a ghost trap from the Ghostbusters franchise.

Some of these things seem designed as collectibles displayed on a shelf rather than a practical popcorn vessel. For instance, I'm not convinced a Corvette is the ideal popcorn holder. But beyond the more typical collectible fountain soda cup, what other merch makes sense for movie theaters to sell? The popcorn bucket, like the cups, has the advantage of being an upsell tacked onto something that patrons were going to purchase anyway.

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Sometimes placing an order for the popcorn buckets has to be done up to six months in advance. That far out from a movie's release date, it can be hard to tell if the film will be a hit, which means there's a risk of moving too few buckets—a potential gamble that theaters aren't in a position to lose money on right now. But at the moment, it's the big bet that major cinema chains are taking, and there's still plenty of money that can be made from these things alongside the next box office smash. So expect to see people munching on popcorn from some pretty elaborate buckets in the future—depending on whether they're willing to spend big bucks on them.

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