Are there any sources that would constitute the following as gezel/stealing: If you purchase a movie ticket to let’s say Spider-Man and you go to watch Spongebob, and both movie tickets are the same price?
TLDR: Of course this is stealing!
Before we even begin: it does not matter whether the theater owner, ticket seller, or anyone else involved is Jewish or not. Stealing is stealing, regardless of the parties’ religions (SA CM 359:1).
We’ll build up to this case by starting with the analogous case of Reuven the grocer. Shimon walks into Reuven’s grocery and lays down $5 on the table to buy a bunch of water bottles. After Reuven takes the money, Shimon leaves the water bottles, grabs a six-pack of soda and starts to walk out of the store.
Reuven calls to Shimon: “Come back here! I didn’t sell you that!”
Shimon shouts back: “I paid you $5 - I should be able to take anything worth $5 from your store.”
The issue at hand is one of intent at the time of the sale. Reuven only agreed to sell Shimon $5 worth of water bottles. It doesn’t matter that the six-pack is worth the same amount; that’s not what the deal was. It doesn’t matter that Shimon first did the deal for water and then for soda. If he forced the sale of the soda directly it would be no different; asking for the water first just helps with the ruse.
Shulchan Aruch CM 359:9:
הכופה את חבירו למכור את שלו ונותן לו דמיו אסור אבל אין לו דין גזלן ליפסל מדאורייתא אלא מדרבנן
One who forces his friend to sell something of his, and pays him its value - this is forbidden, although the doesn’t have the status of a robber to be disqualified Biblically, only Rabbinically.
The Shulchan Aruch refers to Bava Metzi’a 5b; the Gemara there rules that such a person violates the Biblical prohibition of לא תחמוד, not to covet, but is not disqualified from testimony (Be’er Heitiv, Be’er HaGolah, Sm”a).
How does this translate to tickets?
The issue is complicated by the fact that the theater is selling tickets. There’s two ways I see one can interpret this sale: that the theater is selling the ticket, which has the value of granting its holder permission to enter the theater in question, or that the theater is directly selling him the right to enter, with the ticket being a proof of sale.
If the ticket itself is what’s being sold, then this case is comparable to the discussion above. As such, the same way you can’t force someone to sell you soda when they agreed to water, you can’t force someone to sell you tickets to theater 7 when they only agreed to sell you tickets to theater 5.
If they’re selling you the right to enter, then the entire discussion above is moot. If the ticket is a proof of sale, then whatever is on the ticket is what’s binding; since the ticket says that you only bought the right to enter the Spider-Man movie, you have no right to enter the Spongebob movie.
Another point (h/t DanF) is that there’s a finite number of seats in the theater. Especially on a blockbuster opening weekend, a lot of people may want to see the movie; as the theater will only sell tickets corresponding to the number of seats in the theater, by your switching theaters, you’re stealing that seat from someone who actually paid for it. This point is compounded when you consider theaters that actually sell specific seats, rather than “pick your seat when you enter.”
But DonielF, they probably don’t care!
One question I hear often, adapted to this situation, is that the seller doesn’t care which theater you enter - so long as they’re not losing money on it. For that matter, they typically don’t make money on the ticket sales anyway - it’s the food where the profit lies. Anyway, when was the last time you saw someone rooting through the aisle making sure that ticket holders have the correct ticket - or even a ticket at all? Even by rated-R movies, where they do often check, it’s more for lawsuits than actual sales, right?
The smarter ones even go so far as to quote §1 of the above-quoted chapter in Shulchan Aruch:
ואם הוא דבר דליכא מאן דקפיד ביה שרי כגון ליטול מהחבילה או מהגדר לחצוץ בו שיניו ואף זה אוסר בירושלמי ממדת חסידות:
And if it’s something that nobody is particular regarding it, it’s permitted, such as taking a straw from a haystack or fence to pick one’s teeth with it. But even this is forbidden by the Yerushalmi as a pious act.
See? One shouldn’t do it, sure, but it’s technically permitted.
You can’t just go putting thoughts in people’s heads to justify a Biblical prohibition. The fact that they don’t do anything about it doesn’t mean that they don’t care. The guy at the concessions stand? Yeah, he gets paid $3 an hour and just doesn’t want to do more than his job.
But the theater manager? He would care if he knew people were abusing his ticket counter. First it’s going to the wrong movie, then it’s going to three movies instead of the one you paid for, then it’s sneaking in the back door and not paying at all. Is it a likely scenario that it would devolve so far? Maybe not - but as the manager of the place, he has to be concerned that movie producers will stop showing movies at his theaters because they are losing money. So why doesn’t he put in security and ticket scanners? Maybe he wants to enhance the customer experience or whatever - nothing to do with “he doesn’t care.”
Which thought process is more likely - not caring, or absolutely caring and just doesn’t want to do anything about it? Hard to say, but that’s the point - unless you know for certain what they’re thinking, or at least what’s generally done, you can’t just go assuming because you bought the wrong movie. Own up and go to the front desk and ask for an exchange.
And again: even if this Shulchan Aruch applies, he does qualify it with a “it shouldn’t be done, even if it’s technically okay.”
But what if you do know?
And here we come to the theater’s fine print.
All this assumes that there’s no qualifying factors. But if you know what the theater’s policy is on the topic, then that’s what you follow, ignoring everything else I’ve said in this post.