Movie Popcorn Is Really, Really Bad For You

If you’re one of those people who munches on movie popcorn and placates yourself by rationalizing that as snacks go, it’s not all that bad for you, you’re just deluding yourself.

The L.A. Times cites a Center for Science in the Public Interest report that analyzes the waistline-expanding abilities of buttered-up, movie theater pocorn at the largest movie chains: Regal, AMC and Cinemark. Just how bad for you is it? Reporter Mary MacVean writes:

A medium-sized popcorn and medium soda at the nation’s largest movie chain pack the nutritional equivalent of three Quarter Pounders topped with 12 pats of butter, according to a report released today by the advocacy group Center for Science in the Public Interest.

The group’s second look at movie theater concessions — the last was 15 years ago — found little had changed in a decade and a half, despite theaters’ attempts to reformulate.

You wouldn’t wolf down three quarter pounders and 12 pats of butter in one sitting at a movie, so it’s probably a good idea to think twice about inhaling that medium popcorn.

Movie popcorn still a nutritional horror, study finds [L.A. Times via Movie City News]
(Photo: Great Beyond)


Edit Your Comment

  1. bloggerX says:

    The only change in a decade and a half has been PRICE!

    • Parnassus says:

      @bloggerX: Price isn’t the only change. I stopped buying theater popcorn when I started seeing them carrying in the big plastic bags of popcorn and emptying them into the popper. I’ll only buy the popcorn now if I can see that popper popping!

  2. Eyebrows McGee (now with double the baby!) says:

    I go to the movies maybe twice a year, and BY GOD I WANT MY ARTERIES MORE CLOGGED when I leave than they were when I arrived!

  3. savdavid says:

    Absolutely! I worked for Litchfield Company of SC and Regal Entertainment Group for years. They used the cheapest oil, coconut, which is hard as a rock when we get it. We had to melt it first in the metal drum it comes in using heaters. It is colored yellow to make the popcorn look better. I tried complaining to the head office of both companies and was ignored. This stuff is deadly. DO NOT EAT THEATER POPCORN unless you KNOW it is not popped in coconut oil. The “buttery topping” is nothing but more oil flavored with artificial butter flavoring.

  4. diasdiem says:

    I always just get popcorn plain. Still not good for you, but better than drowning it in “butter topping.”

    • Spider Jerusalem says:

      @diasdiem: Yeah…the issue here isn’t popcorn, it’s the crap people put on it. The delicious, delicious crap. But the Center for Science in the Public Interest is always overdramatic and full of crap. Yes, we KNOW that oily mess you pump onto your popcorn is awful. How about you tell us if PLAIN popcorn is really bad for you, or popcorn with a little flavoring salt? Yeah, didn’t think so, drama queens.

    • tsukiotoshi says:

      @diasdiem: Well it is better than eating it drowned in the butter but I know when I worked at a movie theater we popped it in “butter salt” which was pretty much the “butter” in a powdery form. So chances are the popcorn has some form of the butter on it when it pops.

    • Applekid ┬──┬ ノ( ã‚œ-゜ノ) says:

      @diasdiem: Doesn’t popcorn need some kind of oil to heat properly to a pop?

      • diasdiem says:

        @Applekid: My mom’s air-popper must work using magic and happy thoughts then.

      • oloranya says:

        @Applekid: Nope. My parents have an air popper, no oil required.

      • ageekymom says:

        @Applekid: No, popping corn can be popped with hot air. In high school, my jewelry teacher had an air-popper that made great popcorn. Of course, it was even tastier when someone brought in butter for the “dispenser” that melted the butter onto the popcorn as it came out of the machine.

    • redrolla says:

      @diasdiem: I worked at a movie theater in high school, long time ago. At least back then, the “buttery” topping was healthier than the popcorn itself. It’s the oil that the popcorn is cooked in that makes it so bad. We used to laugh at people who thought they were being health by ordering a plain pop corn and diet soda.

      • diasdiem says:

        @redrolla: Skipping the topping or ordering a diet soda, or getting a burger without mayonnaise isn’t really so much about being healthy as it is about damage control.

  5. Kuchen says:

    I do not like movie theater popcorn. It makes my mouth burn. I sneak in hard candy in my purse. That way, I still have food after the previews are over. Um…I mean, of course I don’t bring in my own food. I would NEVER do that!

    • eccsame says:

      @Kuchen: If you sneak food into a theater, then you are stealing. Period.

      • Kuchen says:

        @LeChiffre: Like salt and vinegar chips, it actually HURTS after awhile. Does no one else experience this?

        @eccsame: I can totally see how it’s not allowed. I don’t see how it’s stealing.

        • Captaffy says:

          @Kuchen: Movie popcorn causes my lips to swell. I think it’s all the salt in there. I don’t eat that stuff anymore.

        • Rectilinear Propagation says:

          @Kuchen: I have that problem with hot french fries sometimes or with tomatoes depending on what I’m eating but I’ve never gotten it with popcorn.

          I think it’s either because I don’t add the flavored salt or because I never get any hot enough for it to be an issue.

          It makes sense that it would happen with salt and vinegar though. Any combo of hot, acid-y, and salty.

      • floraposte says:

        @eccsame: Huh? You’re breaking the rules, if that’s their rules, but it’s hardly stealing if the food you bring isn’t food they sell. It’s not like you’re required to eat and you’d be eating their food if you didn’t have yours.

      • JulesNoctambule says:

        @eccsame: Really? And how do you figure that?

      • your new nemesis says:

        @eccsame: Is it stealing if i bring in a flask of whiskey and pour some into my coke while i enjoy the movie?

        • eccsame says:

          @skizsrodt: Only if they sell booze in the theater. Okay, maybe it isn’t “stealing” – but the theaters do make the majority of their money from concessions, since ticket sales barely cover the cost of renting a film for the theater.

          Let’s put it another way – would you go to a restaurant and, if asked if you wanted to buy a salad with your meal say “no, thanks – I brought my own salad”. No, of course not. Why is a theater any different? Only because you can “sneak” food in without anyone knowing.

          • Kuchen says:

            @eccsame: It’s not really the same thing. A restaurant’s only business is selling food, so by bringing in your own you are truly depriving them of a paying customer that could be at that table. I go to the movie theater to see movies, which I pay for. I don’t ever buy movie theater food because it’s so ridiculously overpriced. Would the theater rather have me come but not buy food or not come at all? I’m pretty sure they still want to sell that ticket.

          • El_Fez says:

            @eccsame: I’m not stealing – I wouldn’t buy their overpriced crap even if I was starving. So unless it’s mandatory to buy their food, F’ em! Besides, I get better snacks – stuff I actually want – that way instead of dried out peanut butter cups.

            Theater Hopping – now THAT’S stealing. But that’s another topic for another time. . . .

    • outlulz says:

      @Kuchen: Are you 90 years old?

  6. Scoobatz says:

    So what. Let’s remind ourselves that nothing is too bad in moderation.

    • FrankenPC says:


      I think the point is the lack of labeling. If it’s labeled with health information, then yeah, so what? But, it’s not. MYSTERY foooood!

  7. madanthony says:

    How many burgers and pats of butter is it if I get the popcorn with a diet soda?

  8. JRock says:

    That’s a lot of popcorn… I can usually, at best, eat 2/3 of a small size. I can’t imagine eating an entire tub myself.

    • ahleeeshah says:

      @JRock: I get the kid’s pack without butter whenever I go and actually want popcorn. My ex-Regal employee boyfriend says it’s probably the best deal there, and I couldn’t even think about finishing a small popcorn.

  9. TaraMisu says:

    I go to the movies probably 4 times a year and by God I want a large popcorn. Yes it costs $26 and will clog my arteries, but I don’t care. If I went once a week, that would be cause for concern.

  10. Kimaroo - 100% Pure Natural Kitteh says:

    I don’t eat movie popcorn.. I breathe it in.. it smells so good.. and that is enough for me.

    Now, if they come out with a story about the sausagey goodness that is the AMC Hotdog.. I might have something to worry about.

    Dammit.. now I want a sausage hotdog.

  11. TheMonkeyKing says:

    But if I don’t get the popcorn, what will I get to go with my jumbo Coke Icee?

    I mean, I will be all unbalanced with a free hand and that’s unnatural! Not to mention the uncomfortable stares from the other patrons. (Shhh! Honey, don’t look at the poor man who can only afford one concession! Yeah — I live in that tough of a town.)

  12. lannister80 says:

    Can I get those figures in Libraries of Congress, please?

  13. stanner says:

    Our theater serves booze too. So I can drink to excess while enjoying my delicious deadly popcorn. They also allow you to put as much “butter” and salt on as you want, all by your own decision-making self.

    And that’s the way it should be.

    • h3llc4t, breaker of office dress codes says:

      @stanner: We live near one with a full kitchen inside it as well as a bar. I spent my last birthday watching a zombie movie on the big screen with a margarita in one hand and a cheeseburger in the other. I cannot fully describe the bliss.

    • DangerMouth says:

      @stanner: My favorite theatre in Oakland served beer wine and food, by my favorite, favorite theatre in Bangkok serves mixed drinks and sushi.

      God I hate connecticut.

  14. jigwashere says:

    Going to the movies and eating a large popcorn (and sneaking out for a free refill) is part of my retirement savings plan. I need to die at age 67 before my retirement savings runs out.

  15. John says:

    dammit, now I want three cheeseburgers and 12 pats of butter. Thanks.

  16. PsiCop says:

    CSPI has been engaged in a war against movie popcorn for many years. There’s nothing new here, and not even from them … they’ve issued the same findings several times since the early 2000s.

    That’s not to say the stuff is healthy after all. I never get movie popcorn … never. And I don’t even nibble on it if I’m with someone who buys it and I’m offered some.

    All I’m saying is that this is NOT “news.” Not by any stretch of the imagination.

    That said, there are reasons why people like high-fat foods like this (i.e. human beings are hard-wired to like it in preference to other stuff) and there are reasons the theaters continue to use coconut oil (i.e. it’s cheap). Perhaps CSPI would be better off advocating changes that actually help rather than just continuing to rail about theaters selling this stuff and people buying it. It’s great for the “fat police” to tell people they should eat rocks and twigs instead, and to tell the theaters to sell them rocks and twigs … but the fact is that people don’t like rocks and twigs, they will not willingly eat rocks and twigs, and that means theaters will never make money selling rocks and twigs.

    In other words, it’s time for CSPI and similar outfits to stop putting the cart before the horse, and offer useful solutions, rather than just doing what they’ve always done, which is to whine and complain and issue press-releases full of sanctimonious outrage just because people eat what they want to eat and theaters dare sell it to them.

  17. Applekid ┬──┬ ノ( ゜-゜ノ) says:

    You wouldn’t wolf down three quarter pounders and 12 pats of butter in one sitting at a movie, so it’s probably a good idea to think twice about inhaling that medium popcorn.

    That sounds like a challenge. I raise you three strips of bacon and a fried egg.

  18. chrisholland03 says:

    I like my popcorn like I like my women…plain, salty, and corny.

  19. captadam says:

    What I don’t understand is HOW it can be this bad. It’s puffed corn!

  20. ArcanaJ says:

    Oh, for Pete’s sake! This “study” again? I love how the article is so data-lite and yet so terrifyingly dire. BOOGAH! BOOGAH! BOOGAH!

    It doesn’t even say what constitutes a “medium” or if that popcorn is soaked in the melted Tupperware they call butter flavoring. And what one person eats an entire tub of that crap on their own?

  21. lukesdad says:

    Am I the only loser who is unsure what a “pat” of butter is?

    • JulesNoctambule says:

      @lukesdad: About a teaspoon, I think.

    • kairi2 says:

      @lukesdad: i don’t know why but i laughed so hard at this, i almost spit out my peppermint. haha.

      i’m thinking a “pat” is like a slice, like they serve at a cafeteria that you’d eat at with your grandmother.

      • lukesdad says:

        @kairi2: So it’s like a “pinch” or a “smidge.”

        Incidentally, the latest set of measuring spoons I bought have a tiny spoon that says “just a pinch.” Really?

  22. Mknzybsofh says:

    HA! Who cares how many calories are in a bag of damned popcorn and a soda! If there is anything to scream about it is the cost of these calorie packing horrors! Our local multiplex recently went to 8 dollars for a large popcorn and 5 dollars for a large drink. 1 dollar per refill. That’s 18$ for me and the wife to eat popcorn with our 17$ night time tickets. A cost of 35$!! FORGET THAT! We now make it a point to eat out someplace nice and then go to the movies, if we go at all. The food is by far taster and better for you!

    It’s by far cheaper to rent the movie when it comes out. Go over to our friends house that has a 52 inch HD and order in. We split the cost of 2 large BOGO pizzas at about 5$ per couple (six people), Cost or renting the DVD 5$ We do this two times a month with movies that we all deem, ‘A waste of money to go see in the theater, but we will rent it when it comes out on DVD.’ Total cost for this night 20$, a savings of over 80$. It is not like we have a whole lot of extra money laying around that we can go see movies like we used to. We are all working but we’ve had to cut back on spending due to job cuts and such. First thing to go, Movie nights.

  23. INTPLibrarian says:

    >You wouldn’t wolf down three quarter pounders and 12 pats of butter in one sitting at a movie

    Speak for yourself!

  24. Scatter says:

    “It found that a Regal medium popcorn — 20 cups — contains 1,200 calories, 60 grams of saturated fat, and 980 milligrams of sodium. That’s without the buttery topping that can be drizzled — or poured — on the popcorn, which adds another 200 calories and 3 grams of saturated fat per 1.5 tablespoons.”

    So where do all the calories and fat come from if they’re saying that this is before the butter is added?

  25. donopolis says:

    There’s a movie theatre here that serves it’s popcorn with real honest to god melted butter instead of “Golden Flavoring”…when I go there I get a large Popcorn and a Large freshly squeezed Lemonade….mmmm

  26. greatgoogly says:

    The Center for Science in the Public Interests are just professional killjoys. While I’m sure that the popcorn at movie theaters isn’t health food, I don’t think a bag or two a couple times a year is going to kill you. CSPI is always kicking out stories on how this or that is going to kill you. Their Christmas/Holiday party must really be a blast!

  27. fairywench says:

    Ok, I will say what no one else here seems to be pointing out – the fact is, movie theater popcorn tastes like a bucket of crumpled week-old newspaper, glazed in salty vaseline. Why would anyone eat that nasty stuff?

    Now real popcorn, air-popped and drenched in far more than 12 pats of butter – that is something worth clogging your arteries for!

  28. gollerpr says:

    Medium????? I wolf down the large!!! I don’t do it very often, and I often skip dinner to do it, but I need me the popcorn at the theater… :)

  29. SacraBos says:

    I never get my popcorn buttered. That stuff is nasty. The theaters near me us Canola oil (which I use at home), so it’s not so bad.

    What I think is funny is the people that get the giant buttered popcorn… with the Diet Coke. And come back for free refills on the popcorn.

    • Mauvaise says:

      @SacraBos: This isn’t (mostly) directed at you, but I’m tired of everyone trotting out this “irony” every time any one is talking about fattening foods.

      No one ever stops to consider that maybe the reason the person is ordering the Diet Coke is not be “healthy”, but because they don’t want the sugar.

      I drink diet almost exclusively, and not because I’m dieting, but because I consider regular soda to be empty calories. Those 3 cheeseburgers and 12 pats of butter that we’re calling movie theatre popcorn? Totally not empty – it’s worth every last artery hardening calorie.

      Like others have said – I go to the movies maybe 3 times a year, and you can have my medium-large butter-flavoring topped popcorn when I’m dead of a heart attack. Which won’t happen because I have excellent genes and an HDL # that may be a world’s record.

  30. stanner says:

    “Butter my popcorn” is how the missus and I talk about naughty things in front of the kids.

  31. Covertghost says:

    Meh, whatever.

    Getting popcorn from the farmer’s market is better anyway :)

  32. stillkarenann says:

    I pop at home (with my whirly-pop!) and coconut oil makes, by far, the best tasting popcorn. This is one place where I dig my heels in.

  33. SPENCERG says:

    You wouldn’t wolf down three quarter pounders and 12 pats of butter in one sitting at a movie

    So what you’re saying is, I can finally stop feeling guilty for wolfing down three quarter pounders while watching a movie in a theater?? :D

    Because, you know…. at least it doesn’t have those 12 pats of butter, am I right?

  34. The Marionette says:

    Errmm consumerist… it says it’s the nutritional value of 3 quarter-pounders with 12 pats of butter, it’s not the same amount of food as it though.

  35. ElleDriver says:

    For those of you who want to keep indulging in “movie” popcorn without the gilt, track down a bag of the all-natural “movie theater” popcorn by the Popcorn Indiana company: []

    No coconut or hydrogenated oil or artificial additives – only popcorn, clarified butter, and canola oil.

    It tastes like the real thing, but better. (In fact, I’m inhaling a large bag of it right now.)

  36. 2 replies says:

    This is misleading AT BEST.

    It’s not the popcorn that is really, really bad for you, it’s all the SHIT you put on it and eat WITH it.

    12 pats of butter, Salt, Medium soda.

    Just be smart people. Or rather than ‘smart’ be conscious of your food decisions.
    – Bring a water bottle (or if the movie-nazis protest, buy one of theirs) and refill it.
    – Bring a piece of fruit. Or again if attacked by the movie-gestapo, buy popcorn but insist it be plain.

    Da na! Now you’re assured a long bland tasteless existance.

    • The Marionette says:

      @2 replies by: My thoughts exactly. At our theater we only put about a tablespoon of salt in per batch (can’t remember how much each batch is at the moment), or you can request to have non-salted popcorn made. As far as the rest of the stuff that goes on it is self-served, so the customers are the ones who put it on. You can get a small popcorn fall all it matters, but if you glug on a lb of the butter (or oily topping) and bury it in salt then statistics they showed for the medium popcorn can apply to the small as well.

  37. mbd says:

    Movie Theatre popcorn like many other snacks consumed in moderation are not really all that bad. After all, it should be considered a treat like a Hot Fudge Sunday, not a daily staple.

    Years ago when this story had it’s first go-around, many local theatres here in NJ started popping in canola oil. The owner of one, not liking the taste, went back to coconut oil, and posted on the menu board “Proudly Popped In Coconut Oil”. I was told his popcorn sales when up by almost 30%.

  38. redstapler says:

    Wait, when did theaters start popping on premises again? They always try to sneak it out of plastic bags from a factory when they think no one is looking.

    • Mauvaise says:

      That isn’t always an indicator that it isn’t popped on the premises. I worked at a theater many years ago (a GCC in So Cal) and while we popped on the premises, it was at a location upstairs and not near the concession stand. The popper would put the freshly made corn into plastic bags to bring down to concessions. Still not as good as freshly popped before your eyes, but better than shipped in from random factory.

  39. TCinIowa says:

    When I worked in the movie theaters in the late 80’s we used canola oil for the popping.

    The ‘butter’ (or ‘satan’s own piss’ as we used to call it) was what ever was left of butter after you removed everything that would make it go bad if it sat out at room temperature for 90 days.

    It had the consistency of paste when cool, and came in 5 gallon plastic containers. It was sometimes hard to tell where the substance stopped and the plastic started.

    Anyone who can go through an entire tub at a movie probably just finished 3 quarter pounders with 12 pats of butter prior to the show. Most of the popcorn tubs left after the show were better than 75% full.

  40. nakkypoo says:

    12 pats of butter is 3 kilograms or over 6.5 pounds. The fact that under 1 pound of popcorn has as much nutritional value as three high-protein burgers and 6.5 pounds of fat is simply amazing.

  41. webweazel says:

    We were in Sam’s Club one day, and happened to notice they had gallon jugs of popcorn “butter” like what they use at the theaters. Out of curiosity, I checked out the nutrition label. I don’t remember specifics, but along the lines of 88% of your daily fat and 120% of your daily sodium, per TABLESPOON. Holy frijoles!

  42. Roloboto says:

    i bring my own popcorn from homw.

  43. DeSpawn says:

    Who Drinks Soda… I just have good old water… so how does that reduce my cal intake for this!

    • FigNinja says:

      Regular soda is usually around 100 calories per 8 oz cup. I would imagine the soda they’re talking about is probably 3 or 4 cups.

  44. FigNinja says:

    The medium popcorn in their study is 20 cups! Who can eat that much? I’m not surprised it was 1200 calories before the butter. That’s not too bad if you eat a reasonable amount.