Popcorn: Cinema’s Surprisingly Cheap Snack?

By Helen Budge | May 31, 2019 1:15 am PDT

Popcorn: almost as synonymous with cinema as watching the actual film itself, not least because of the sensory ambience created by the freshly popped smell. But popcorn as a cinema snack has a reputation for being pricey and at GBP £5 (USD $6.34) or sometimes higher for a large tub, it adds the pounds on to an evening at the movies, both health and cost-wise.

What’s interesting though, is popcorn’s new-found prevalence on the high street. It’s now no longer just to be found on a cinema concession stand but is becoming more and more common in shops offering lunchtime ‘grab-n-go’ meals in the UK. From Pod’s healthy-eating meal deals to Pret-a-Manger’s lunchtime selection, popcorn is now marketed as ‘the healthy snack option’. But at what (literal) price? Does, comparatively speaking, a 20g packet (0.7oz) provide good value for money or is the best value actually to be found in a big scoop serving at the cinema? And are the high street options really the healthier ones?

We had a closer look into how much the available various brands cost, alongside their calorific content and how this fares in comparison to the typical cinema serving.

High Street Brands

UK High street shops providing quick, on-the-go lunch options stock a variety of popcorn brands to go alongside a sandwich or salad and they’re positioned as a lighter alternative to crisps or sweets (candy). But is this a fair representation or is it that size isn’t always everything and a smaller portion equals less calories?

UK high street popcorn comparison. (chart: Celluloid Junkie)

Each popcorn brand carries a good few different flavours and it perhaps goes without saying that these varied options yield differing calorific content – the average ‘salty’ popcorn will contain less calories than a ‘chocolate’ popcorn. But actually, the high street brands tabled above all record quite substantial calorific values than might be expected for this ‘light’ snack, especially when considering a 100g serving. The highest calorific value per 100g (3.5oz) comes from The London Popcorn Co.’s Lightly Salted popcorn at a substantial 501 kcal.

The winner (read: most expensive) is Caffè Nero’s Metcalfe’s Skinny Popcorn Lightly Salted, which equates to £6.76 ($8.53) per 100g, a pretty pricey option.

Odeon popcorn. (photo: Odeon Cinemas Group)

Cinema Popcorn

So let’s have a look at what’s on offer, popcorn-wise, from the ‘big three’ multiplexes in the UK: Cineworld, Odeon and Vue:

UK cinemas popcorn comparison. (chart: Celluloid Junkie)

*sizes are approximate

*regional prices apply so for this purpose an average has been used

The initial price for a large box may seem expensive and yet, where this gets really interesting is when the ‘scaling up’ calculations are completed. Odeon’s cheapest price comes in at only £2.65 ($3.34) per 100g (3.5oz), 76p (96¢) below even the cheapest high street option of Pret’s “Passionately Popped” Popcorn and a whopping £4.11 ($5.19) behind top-of-the-table Metcalfe’s Skinny Popcorn at £6.76 ($8.53).

Interestingly however, Odeon’s popcorn also registers at the lower end of the calorific scale with only one high street offering being lower in calories.

Vue’s fractionally pricier offering at £2.93 ($3.70) per 100g is still £3.83 ($4.83) cheaper than Metcalfe’s Skinny Popcorn, which is more than double the cost. Again, Vue’s popcorn is far from the most calorific in the table, with three high street brands having higher energy content.

Vue popcorn. (photo: Vue Entertainment)


This trend of healthy high street snacking indicates a clear change in consumer tastes and has clearly been taken seriously by retailers. There’s a seemingly growing range of popcorn options, possibly due to retailers identifying its current popularity and then going on to create their own in-house options, or stocking incredibly prominent brands such as Proper Corn (this writer found this particular name in almost every food store).

Joe & Seph popcorn. (photo: J&S)

But just because a snack claims to be a healthier alternative doesn’t mean it’s as innocent – or as cheap – as it seems.

One interesting observation of note from the cinema perspective, is that the movie theatres are developing their offering and now serve individually-wrapped, pre-packed premium brand “Joe & Seph’s Gourmet Popcorn”. This retails for anywhere from £3.95-£4.49 per 80g ($4.98-$5.67 / 2.8oz) and is a completely separate option to typical scoop-popcorn.

A final observation to point out after all the table-filled research has been analysed and every bag or scoop of popcorn has been searched out and weighed, is that the small grab bags that retail for £1 ($1.26) or more and contain anywhere from 17-30g, when all the sums are done it does indeed seem to be the case that value for money, and low calorie intake, ain’t to be found in one of these. So, for your hit of popped corn, the cinema wins every time.

Credit to Blue Stocking Partnership Ltd. and big shout-out to Prill and Sarah for giving us the idea for this scoop of popcorn, as well as helping us with the research. You are the pop in our corn. 

Helen Budge