I used to work at a local cinema. Although I was never privy to any real financial information, I used to hear some things.
How can studios mandate ticket prices?
IIRC, they did not mandate ticket prices. They charged a (fixed) rental fee for the film itself, plus either a percentage of the ticket sales or a fixed $ amount per ticket. The percentage or amount would be higher in the first few weeks.
I think the rule of thumb in the theater was something like this: ticket sales have to pay for the film rent, the projectors, building maintenance, etc., and concession sales have to pay for everybody's salaries and profits. If the rent went up, ticket prices would have to be raised.
Isn't that illegal price fixing? Normally a manufacturer of a product can dictate minimum *advertised* price, but not minimum sale price. Do the rules differ for movies?
If the cinema wants to sell tickets at a loss, the distributor won't stop them, so long as they get their money.