Medium Bags Of Popcorn Often Hold More Than Large Tubs

If you buy the large tub of popcorn at the movie theater for the free refills, go for it, tubby. But if you’re buying it because you just want the biggest size available, UC Irvine professor and author Richard McKenzie says to watch out if the medium is a bag while the large is a tub:

If you’re in a cinema which gives you a choice between buying a medium bag of popcorn and a large tub of popcorn, there’s a greater-than-50% chance that the medium bag will actually contain more popcorn than the large tub.

Here’s more of Professor McKenzie’s thoughts on popcorn economics:

The prospects of getting more popcorn in the medium than the large is higher here, since the medium is a bag with flexible sides and the tub has rigged sides. Both mediums and large sizes in Winston-Salem are bags with flexible sizes. There I always got more in the large (not much more!). Here, a little more than half the time I got more in the medium. It all depends on the clerks, and how she/he holds the bags and then chooses to literally stuff the bags by pressing the popcorn down. But then the ounce measures are not a firm indicator of value, since a higher weight can mean more bottom of the popping cabinet crumbs and un-popped kernels.

“Richard McKenzie’s Popcorn” [Portfolio] (Thanks to Jon!)
(Photo: SMN)


Edit Your Comment

  1. zigziggityzoo says:

    Most decent theaters offer $.25 refills. Bring a couple bags from home, get a refill before the credits are rolling. You’re set.

  2. Not Alvis says:

    @zigziggityzoo: Ah, retail fraud. Good for you.

  3. r081984 says:


    A theater is not decent unless it offers free refills on popcorn. 25 cents is so stupid.

  4. PsychicPsycho3 says:

    did they mean rigid and not rigged?

  5. Chris Walters says:

    @PsychicPsycho3: I hope so. A “rigged” tub sounds like it will collapse and spill all your popcorn 10 minutes into the movie.

    Also: love that photo. Exam time!!!

  6. akalish says:

    Are we really obsessing over popcorn sizes? How fat are we America?!

  7. thesabre says:

    @akalish: I agree. The grocery store near me sells the movie theater boxes of candy for $1.00. It’s simple to put a box of Whoppers or Sno-Caps in your pocket.

    Let’s just hope theaters don’t start asking to see your receipt when you open your box of candy.

  8. sleepydumbdude says:

    All my theater’s popcorn sizes differ in 25 cent increments. So the biggest one is only a buck more than the smallest. They also have free refills. So if you are going to buy a 6 dollar bag of popcorn anyway then might as well put another dollar to it.

  9. mxjohnson says:

    If the theater has clearly posted signs that say No Outside Food Or Drink, is sneaking in your own Junior Mints still less of a sin than bringing in an empty popcorn bag and getting free refills?

  10. Trai_Dep says:

    You know, I’d pay fifty cents extra if they only had real butter.
    But the greased styrofoam they charge $6.00 for? Not a chance.
    I’m not alone – I’m flabbergasted theaters are throwing away business like that.

  11. nealb says:

    This doesn’t seem like a very relevant comparison. It would only matter in cases where refills are not free for large popcorns (Every theater I’ve ever been to offers free refills for large popcorn). Unlimited is better than not-unlimited regardless of minor container size differences.

  12. Nihon no Purin says:

    @r081984: just like how any decent theater screens movies for free, right? UGH screw them for trying to make money, capitalist pigs.

  13. JennQPublic says:

    I bring my own candy, but I love movie theater popcorn. Make sure you get it out of the popper though, the stuff in the warmer is like styrofoam. The buttered-flavored-topping is the best part!

    I worked at a movie theater as a teenager, and we could eat all of the popcorn and drink all of the soda we wanted. These days I only eat popcorn and drink soda when I go to the movies, two or three times a year.

  14. crackblind says:

    AMC Loews in NY started limiting the refills to one time only on large popcorns. They actually switch out the bag when you get the refill so they know you’ve already gotten your refill.

    Also, they change the ad on the large bag pretty frequently so they know if you are actually bringing in a bag from a previous day so you can’t save your refill for a return visit.

  15. Sherryness says:

    @Chris Walters: It’s a dribble tub; designed to get butter all over your chin and shirt.

  16. thesabre says:

    @mxjohnson: Yes, because in the latter situation you’re actually receiving their product and not paying. Thus, you are actually stealing their popcorn. If you bring in your own, they still have those snacks and they can sell them to make money. You aren’t stealing anything in the first scenario.

  17. Parting says:

    @mxjohnson: Yes, because jerks who stela popcorn, screw other REAL customers.

    Local theaters used to have unlimited refills on large drinks/popcorn. Now it’s only one, and they mark your bag with a black marker to indicate that you’ve got it.

    I talked to one of the employee, and they told me it was due to several abuse from customers, that would reuse popcorn bags from previous visits. And when they were caught (design on bags changes regularly with different advertisements), many would be abusive towards employees.

    So a percentage of crooks, spoiled it all for honest customers.

    When you sneak your own stuff, at least you’re not taking it from the theater.

  18. zigziggityzoo says:

    @Clold: Retail fraud? I paid for the popcorn. I ate it at the theater. What’s the fraud there? If there were a big sign that said NO BRINGING YOUR OWN BAGS then I’d probably understand where you’re coming from.

  19. witeowl says:

    @zigziggityzoo: Unless you’re bringing in a brown paper bag, as opposed to a theater bag, you’re committing fraud. What part of “refill” don’t you understand? There’s an initial same day purchase implied there. You don’t think they’re really charging you $4.25 for the bag and $0.25 for the popcorn, do you?

    @JennQPublic: Agreed. I’ve actually gone into theaters to buy a large bag of popcorn to bring home before enjoying a rented movie.

  20. cametall says:

    Too bad the popcorn at all the theaters around me are terrible.

  21. Trai_Dep says:

    @zigziggityzoo: For gods’ sake, are you nine years old?

  22. I eat all of the popcorn that I want while I watch the movie sitting in my LazyBoy.

    With real butter.

  23. zigziggityzoo says:

    @witeowl: I suppose that wasn’t clear. I usually bring a ziploc gallon size bag, buy a popcorn, empty it into the bag, and buy a refill before the movie starts. That way I don’t have to get up mid-film.

  24. zigziggityzoo says:

    @witeowl: and, to be sure. There’s not a chance it costs $4.25 for a bag full of popcorn. $.25 is closer to their actual costs (factoring in the minimum-wage teenagers manning the grease buckets).

  25. arl84 says:


  26. witeowl says:

    @zigziggityzoo: Aha! Now I gotcha. You’re right – that’s no different from the many customers who use the theater’s trays to empty the bag and get a refill. (Except, actually, you’re saving them money by not wasting one of their trays.)

    And no – I didn’t say/think that it costs the theater that much; I said that they were charging that much. I’m aware of the ridiculous mark-ups, but I forgive them because they actually make relatively little off ticket sales. Concessions sales keep theaters going… but I draw the line at soda and popcorn. Candy comes in from outside.

  27. bvita says:

    Ah geniuses,

    I sell both tubs and bags as well as everything else that goes into a theatre for a living. Tubs and bags are sold by size. We have 32oz 83 oz 128 oz and 164oz tubs. There are similar sizes in bags. The sizes DO reflect how much product that they will hold. If you are given a 48 oz bag of corn vs a 32 oz tub, yes, it will be bigger. If you have a 32 oz bag and a 83 oz tub, it won’t be.

    The professor seems to think that he’s getting a better value by packing the corn into the bag. Maybe he likes the crunched up corn, most folks don’t.

    I guess that this proves my theory that UC professors have way too much time on their hands.

  28. Kounji says:

    @zigziggityzoo: I hope you don’t honestly do that.

  29. forgottenpassword says:

    Jebus! If they arent already making an obscene amount of profit from popcorn anyway!

    Now I dont feel bad about sneaking food in.

    Actually… I never felt bad about it. *shrug*

    Note: I was never much of a popcorn eater…. more of a theater nachos & hotdog fan.

  30. zigziggityzoo says:

    @Kounji: for the two to three times/year I go to the theater: yes, I do. I know I’m not the only one, either. In my opinion, that’s got to be better than bringing in food from the outside, like most everyone else does.

  31. Angryrider says:

    Sneakin’ in candy? That’s for children. It’s cooler to sneak in an entire KFC meal. Mmm mmm. Mashed Potatoes.

  32. Channing says:

    I’m hungry for popcorn now.
    And if you smash popcorn into a bag you DO get more, it’s just very, very smashed.

  33. petrarch1608 says:

    does anyone else sneak beer into theaters. I can think of no other way to enjoy a good movie than with a nice dark beer.

  34. Trai_Dep says:

    @bvita: Well, to be fair to academia, most professors publish for two audiences: their own and an occasional one for popular audiences. They try to mix-and-match. I’d bet a pound of jujubes that the prof in question has many dense “proper” economics papers under his belt as well. :)

  35. thesabre says:

    @Angryrider: A buddy of mine snuck in a whole Subway sub. That was pretty amazing. But the crumbling of paper can be a little inconsiderate to those around you, so I don’t do anything like that. But yes, I’d love to see people sneak in more meals in general. KFC wouldn’t be too hard if you’re a woman and have a purse. How about an entire pizza (box and all)? Now that would be fun to see.

  36. Lambasted says:

    People actually get refills on large popcorn?!! Those suckers are huge. Even worse, some are talking about bringing in extra bags to fill up. Who are you all trying to feed with all of that popcorn…Africa? I am all for smuggling in candy and light snacks. But KFC, Subway, pizza?! Are you there to eat or watch a movie? People have construed the “dinner and a show” concept to mean concurrently instead of consecutively.

    See this is why we need drive-ins back. You can bring a four-course meal and eat until you explode, all in the privacy and confines of your car so the rest of us don’t have to smell greasy chicken, pickles and onions, and anchovies while we are trying to enjoy the our $12 movie.

  37. NikonGal says:

    My local movie theater allows you to bring your own drinks and food. And it’s a brand new AMC theater! In fact, we’ve been told you can even bring in a pizza or a bucket of chicken! I don’t see people too often take advantage of this policy, but it’s nice to know I can bring my own bottle of water when I want to without trying to hide it from the employees. It must be a good policy for them, the theater is always busy.

  38. Claystil says:

    The same can be said about various shapes of containers. I noticed once when eating at the fine establishment Wendy’s that my father’s medium fries seemed to old about the same weight of fries as my biggie. We weighed the two and the seemingly full medium actually weighed more than the seemingly full biggie.

  39. temporaryerror says:

    We actually still have a two screen drive in where I live. Sometimes they have the $7 carload deals, and you can always bring in whatever the hell you want to eat with no fear of repercussion. Also, if you want you can get 3 shows for the price of one. Just don’t leave when the first movie is over.

    It’s too bad that so many of those are no longer around…

  40. geoffhazel says:

    refills? Who wants to get up out of their seat, miss 5 – 10 minutes of the middle of the movie, bother everyone in the row twice, just for a refill? It’s ain’t worth it.

  41. MercuryPDX says:

    @geoffhazel: I think that’s what they count on when they offer it for free.

    At my local Regal, you can fit the Medium bag into the large tub quite comfortably, so the Professor’s theory does not apply. We usually buy a large tub to split between three of us at the theater, which is cheaper than three small bags. I guess YMMV.

  42. TVGenius says:

    @geoffhazel: UR DOIN IT WRONG.

    Get Large soda and Large popcorn on way in, get refills of both on the way out…

    I like Harkins’ $1 32oz drinks too…

  43. Jesse says:


    Bringing in beer was probably my most scandalous movie theater act in my book. I did bring in taco bell once a few years ago. My juvenile/college days were fun.

  44. Hmm… don’t theaters get the bulk of their profit from concessions, not ticket sales? So in order for a theater to keep the floors from getting sticky, repair broken chairs, and upgrade the sound system, they need that concession money, right?

    Yeah, let’s cheat them tout of what little money they make.

  45. platoreborn says:

    “So in order for a theater to keep the floors from getting sticky…they need that concession money, right?”

    So they sell the concessions, that make the floors sticky, in order to pay to keep the floors from getting sticky?

    Somehow there must be a way to make money off that!

  46. ? Final ? says:

    The theatre I usually go to the popcorn and soda is free but they make all their money selling beer and wine and real food.

    The large tubs every where else I go always have free refill but the smaller sizes don’t even offer a cheaper refill option.

  47. donkeyjote says:

    @Final: Free popcorn? AND soda? Where is this mystical el dorado of Movie Theaters?

  48. crabbyman6 says:

    @akalish: Right on! I feel like crap after splitting a medium with my wife, I can’t even imagine wanting a refill on any size.

  49. @platoreborn: Ha! Well played. My point was that we’re complaining about the wrong thing, and that maybe stiffing the theater on concession profits is counter-productive. Now, movie-hopping on the other hand…

    And, the food doesn’t make the floor sticky, morons who spill their food make the floor sticky. It’s amazing: if we dropped food all over our house or even in a restaurant, we’d feel bad. But in a theater, we make a mess, even leave trash all over the floor. But I digress…

  50. MKrick says:

    When you buy that $9 ticket to see a new movie the theater itself usually only sees $1 of it or so. The rest goes to Hollywood and the people who made the movie. (this is for the first 2-3 weeks only and is why passes/discounts aren’t usually accepted for new movies)

    That’s why snack prices are high. If you have a local theater you absolutely love and don’t want to see go out of business then support it by buying some popcorn and soda.

  51. madog says:

    @witeowl: So according to you it’s not OK to unscrupulously refill popcorn but OK to bring in candy? Is that why they say no outside food or drink allowed? Or is it OK because YOU do it.

    Don’t get me wrong, I don’t care about either. What I do care about is the fact that you argued against one fraud but at the same time commit another equally stupid fraud.

    “Stealing popcorn!?!? That’s absurd! Now please excuse me while I sneak into the back door of the theatre with some sandwiches and drinks I brought from home.”

  52. mthrndr says:

    Sometimes I feel like getting theater popcorn. But then I look and see that a medium popcorn is $7, and I just can’t justify it, knowing that the medium probably cost about 18c to make.

  53. mermaidshoes says:

    @AzCatz07: boozy theatres are the only way to see a movie. best part? no kids.

  54. ? Final ? says:

    @donkeyjote: The Landmark Greenwood Village if you’re in Denver. The tickets are $12 each but if you usually get popcorn and soda it turns up cheaper because its free soda and popcorn and free refills. Best of all though is REAL BUTTER for the popcorn! Plus if it’s a chick flick I can get some beer and a big ass cookie to take the pain away.

    @mermaidshoes: Amen… I don’t have to threaten to snatch up a teenager that can’t stop texting for 90 minutes to watch a movie.

  55. edrebber says:

    The price of concessions at the theatre is confiscatory. Overcharging leads to smuggling. Basic economics.

  56. witeowl says:

    @madog: Please read this post. While I was misunderstanding ‘ziggy’, I thought he was “stealing” about five bucks of popcorn for a quarter. That would be like pocketing some of their candy and leaving a quarter on the counter. That’s much different from bringing in my own candy and leaving their candy untouched.

  57. sarcasmosis says:

    The largest chain of theatres in the world’s medium popcorn is 130 ounces, and their large popcorn is 170 ounces. Fifty cents difference. Free refills.

    There you go.

  58. donkeyjote says:

    @ceejeemcbeegee: Guns don’t kill people, excessive shear forces exerted on human flesh kill people :P

    @Final: Nice to know, yet 100% sure I’ll never be in denver… Well, 98.999928% sure. Friend is moving there to be with a girl :/

  59. mike says:

    I hate getting popcorn in the theatre. I know that’s how they make their money, but with their prices, you’re pretty much asking people to bring in their own stuff.

    I never understood this policy. If they offered reasonable prices, I might actually buy hot air with butter flavoring. But $4.50 for a medium popcorn, no way!

  60. jethropew says:

    tsk, tsk. if you kids only knew the economics of the theatre industry. during the first 2-4 weeks of a popular/ blockbuster movie, the STUDIOS claim 90% of the gate receipts, and decrease from there. so, if you want your local movie theatre (who invested millions for you to enjoy first run films) to survive, then they must charge high prices for concessions to stay afloat. don’t persecute your theatre – perhaps one could lay some blame at the feet of the zillionaire movie stars who want for nothing, while we all plod along just getting by…..

    now, as for the popcorn sizes: the standard “medium” bag of popcorn holds 85 oz. the standard “tub” holds 170 oz. so, basic science (and common sense) has already determined that the “tub” will always hold more than an 85 oz bag. duh! not sure what that professor has been smoking…..

  61. We snuck in Sake to see the Happening last weekend. At least there was a upside to the movie.

  62. kaptainkk says:

    Who the heck buys a large size popcorn anyways?! Or should I say why buy a large, because you sure as heck don’t need it Tubby!! If I buy popcorn, I will get the kids size which in reality is enough for any one person.

  63. Rectilinear Propagation says:

    @akalish, @kaptainkk: Some people like to go to the movies with family, friends, and/or dates and don’t have a problem sharing a large tub of popcorn.

    @Trai_Dep: That would be awesome. They probably figure it’s not worth it especially if they don’t already have a place to refrigerate it.