Movie Price Madness: How To Save Money On A Trip To The Theater

Unless you’ve been living a hermit-like existence, you’ve likely stepped out to the movie theater at least once recently, and once there, perhaps the skyrocketing price of tickets and the exorbitant cost of snacks shocked you right back into staying home (or into suing theater chains). There are ways around shelling out $13 per ticket and emptying pockets on popcorn, however.

Bloggers and movie lovers Mike and Erica over at NotWorthAdmission.com are really into going to the theater — to the tune of around 100 times in a year. But with the nation’s average ticket price at just around $8, and IMAX and 3D more expensive than that, it’s easy to see why many people stay home.

Therefore, for those serious about saving, Mike sets forth a few ways to save some dough like the $1,000 he figures he and Erica saved in a year, but still enjoy the big screen experience.

Go to matinees: This one is a tried and true weapon of the frugal moviegoing set. Unless, of course, you live in New York City, where the idea of matinee prices just doesn’t exist unless you go to an AMC theater. There, a movie before noon is only $6. Other theaters might have weekday pricing, which you can check out in local listings.

Decide whether it’s worth the 3D and IMAX surcharges: Mike explains that just because a movie is in 3D, it might not have been converted well, or even filmed in 3D, or really, do you need to see a cat wearing boots poking people with a sword? Same with IMAX — was an IMAX camera used or is it just blown up? Research what others are saying about the films before paying a premium. Otherwise, just wait for it to come out on DVD, Blu-Ray or streaming.

Join theater loyalty programs: These are often free, and if one isn’t, it could be worth it if you go to the movies a lot. It may take a few trips to see any result from the membership, but scoring a free movie here and there or a complimentary popcorn isn’t a bad deal.

Buy passes in bulk: Here’s one we didn’t know about, and you might not either¬†– you can buy tickets in bulk straight from the theaters’ corporate sites. This is a move for the very serious cinephiles, as bulk means, around 50 at a time. Many chains discount these passes, some which let you into any movie, and others that work for movies that have been in the theater for more than a certain amount of weeks. The downside? You can’t order online or pick up at a kiosk, and will still have to pay IMAX and 3D surcharges.

For more tips and tricks on saving at the movies, check out Mike and Erica’s blog below.

10 Ways to Save Money at the Movies, or: Why Only Suckers Pay $13 [NotWorthAdmission.com]

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  1. TinaBringMeTheAx says:

    Costco always has two AMC passes, good for any movie with no expiration date, for $15.99, or eight bucks each. And AMC is everywhere in NYC.

    A month or so ago they were on sale for $11.99…I’m set for the year!

  2. areaman says:

    Costco has pretty good deals on movie tickets. They don’t have to be purchased in bulk (sold in sets of two tickets) and don’t expire.

    Disclosure… I’m a minor stake holder in Costco.

    • Jevia says:

      Costco is great for regular movie tickets, but you get no savings if you use them for an Imax or 3D movie. All the theaters do then is give you the face value of the Costco ticket and charge you for the rest.

      • TinaBringMeTheAx says:

        Not true.

        At AMC in NYC, they only charge the price difference or three or four dollar. I’ve done it several times.

      • lilyHaze says:

        Really? I’ve used one on a 3D movie, they just charged me for the difference between the full price and 3D (which was about $3-4 more).

  3. John says:

    For 99% of movies … wait the month and get it on Pay Per View. Very few need to be seen on the big screen.

  4. StatusfriedCrustomer says:

    Go at off hours so you don’t have to sit through 30 minutes of previews (in fact, you can arrive there just before the main feature starts). The boring previews are one of the main reasons people eat snacks and the movie theaters know this.

    • caradrake says:

      I like going after the movie has been out for a few weeks. Basically guarantees that the theater is close to being empty.

      • VintageLydia says:

        But if it’s a film instead of digital projection, you’ll be watch a less quality picture. For film projectors, you need to see it within the first week because film decays faster the more it’s stretched and passed over that very bright and hot bulb.
        That said, I rarely notice the difference, but my husband does and so do a lot of people who really really care about movies or having good picture quality.

        • caradrake says:

          Huh. I don’t think I’ve ever noticed that, or heard of that. Although I think all of the chains around here have been advertising digital films so there wouldn’t be any quality issues.

          Thanks for the information. :) Learn something new every day!

  5. LuzioFantazmic says:

    I’m lucky enough to have a theater in my area that shows movies in their second run.

    All shows prior to 6pm are $3.50. After 6pm they are only $5. And $7 for any 1st run movie they might happen to have playing.

    Great for large families who can sneak in a lot of snacks in their movie goin’ pants.

    • amuro98 says:

      My only problem with 2nd run theaters is that they tend to be rather small and don’t get the full blown digital 3d bonanza version of the movies.

      Wife and I went to go see Kung Fu Panda 2 at a nearby 2nd run theater. It was nice enough, and I felt good about supporting a local business and all…but given where we were sitting in the theater, the screen was proportionally smaller than our large screen TV was at home. Also it was film, so a lot of the sharp details were just lost.

  6. SaltWater says:

    How about this- if you don’t like the way a business runs their business, if you think something is too expensive and not worth it, if you don’t like something for whatever reason you don’t like it DON’T PATRONIZE THE BUSINESS!

    • These Are Not My Pants says:

      What about “if you think something is too expensive, find a cheaper way to enjoy that something” as is described in this article.

    • GTB says:

      Holy shit, how did no one every think of this. We should quit going to all first-run theaters in North America since they are all operating on the same business model!

      Thank you for your input, Ayn, but the free market only really works if there isn’t any collusion between “competing” businesses. Which in this case, and in fact in most cases in America, is not reality.

  7. El_Fez says:

    * Purchase the first show of the day. This allows you to maximize your theater hopping time before they close.
    * Buy a nondescript reversible jacket, so that you can “change your clothes” between theaters.
    * Bring discreet and non-pungent food. After 6 movies in a row, you’ll start to get hungry.
    * Don’t leave your pee bottle behind. That’s just rude!

    • 420greg says:

      Since 95% of the box office money goes to the studio, they really don’t care if you are jumping shows at the places around me. They are happy if you stay there all day buying their food and drinks.

  8. Straspey says:

    We now live in a time where a movie like “Lorax” can be summarily panned by critics prior to its opening, yet still gross $70 Million on its first weekend in theaters.

    However –

    “My Big Fat Greek Wedding”

    Release Dates: April 19, 2002 (limited) August 2, 2002 (wide)
    Limited Opening Weekend: $597,362
    (#20 rank, 108 theaters, $5,531 average)
    Wide Opening Weekend: $3,002,241
    (#9 rank, 657 theaters, $4,569 average)
    % of Total Gross: 1.2%

    Widest Release: 2,016 theaters

    Close Date: April 13, 2003
    In Release: 360 days / 51.4 weeks

    This movie ran in theaters for almost a full year and I can remember certain houses here in NY City which ran the film exclusively for the entire run.

    When they start making movies again who’s success is rated by factors other than how much money it makes on the weekends – such as an interesting plot, a great cast of actors, who make you actually care about what happens to the characters, reality which can stand without the use of endless special effects – used mostly to distract the audience from getting bored, etc — then, maybe, I’ll start going to the movies again.

    • ClemsonEE says:

      LOL at you thinking My Big Fat Greek Wedding was a good movie.

    • George4478 says:

      Now is the time when movies are panned by critics yet loved by the masses? I thought that time was like ‘ since movies were first made’.

    • George4478 says:

      Now is the time when movies are panned by critics yet loved by the masses? I thought that time was like ‘ since movies were first made’.

      • Coffee says:

        I’m always amused going to Rotten Tomatoes and looking at the critic vs. user scores…there’s almost always a negative correlation. Viewers will give a movie with a 17% critic score an 89% and a movie with a 94% critic score a 78%.

  9. Murph1908 says:

    Not a hermit.

    Haven’t been to a theater in over…2 years? Three?

    Netflix and a 100″ projection TV FTW.

  10. cameronl says:

    #1: DON’T snack. – Really, you can’t go 1.5 hours without stuffing your piehole?

    • milkcake says:

      Well, it’s an entertainment. Might as well enjoy it the whole time. That’s like saying, go to a bar, but don’t drink, just social. Or go watch baseball, but don’t eat hotdog. I like to enjoy to a certain level. That said, snacks cost so much that I don’t feel like going to a theater even if there’s a discount for tickets. And that’s not the only reason… sometimes can’t get good seats, sticky floors, have to be at the place at certain time, so many reasons not to go. I just wait for bluray, watch it on my 52in TV with popcorn and beer. (BEER! I mean, can you get beer at a theater?)

  11. Hungry Dog says:

    …or just stop going. I stopped caring about movies until I find them on Netflix or some other easy to stream format.

  12. SavijMuhdrox says:

    I’m surprised no one has mentioned Optimum Rewards.. in the NY/NJ metro area if you are an Optimum Online subscriber (for your cable/internet/phone) they have a deal with local Clearview Cinemas to allow you to see movies FOR FREE on Tuesdays.

    I believe this offer is still valid as it is immensely popular.

  13. kaptainkk says:

    100 movies in a year? There aren’t even that many movies worth seeing. Ever! I’m sure these people have quite a meaningful and special relationship and a lot of extra time to sit around and do nothing.

  14. Miss Dev (The Beer Sherpa) says:

    We had the greatest theater in my town until 6 months ago when they shut it down (so sad). Sure, the seats were mostly broken, and the floor was always super sticky, but movies were capped at $6, popcorn (from their stunningly clean concessions area) was $4 for a gigantic bucket, and soda was $2. They were ALWAYS busy. The only reason they shut down was they lost their lease and the USPS snapped it up to turn into a repair shop.

    I saw the last Harry Potter movie there on my birthday. It was such a blast. Now we have to go to town if we want to see a movie for at least twice as much. So, we haven’t been to a movie in 6 months.

  15. Cat says:

    Coupons:

    Val-Pak has coupons for a local theater (second run) that gets me one 2-for-1 admission, and another coupon for 2 large drinks and a large popcorn for $7. And it has that coupon every month.

    Movie for two: $10.50
    The babysitter will cost more than that – If we can find one… so most of the time, yea, it’s Redbox or streaming, and popcorn at home. Double feature, one for us, one for the kids. Under $4, snacks included.

    • The Porkchop Express says:

      I just use a box of snakes as the “babysitter”. They’re free (i don’t count my snake catching time as a cost)

  16. RandomHookup says:

    A couple of suggestions:

    * If your taste is mainstream movies, check out college campuses for their movie nights. At MIT, you can see a movie like Hugo (playing this weekend) for $4. Many that charge are open to the public, because they want to make money. Some are even free and open to the public (officially or unofficially).

    * If you like documentaries and/or foreign films, there can be lots of sources for free or cheap movies in bigger cities. Again, college campuses often have film screenings and may include directors or actors from the films and/or experts to talk about them.

    * Some of the art house/educational/museum theaters have volunteer programs, where you can do some work and get into movies free. I’ve also volunteered at film festivals in exchange for free movie privileges.

    • RedOryx says:

      This is why I love Cleveland. There is a local chain of theaters that show both wide releases and smaller releases. They have their own reward card to get free movies and concessions. Monday tickets are $5 with discounts on concessions, Tuesdays you get free popcorn, and Wednesday they knock off the 3D surcharge.

      Also, the Cleveland Institute of Art has their own theater that shows art and indie films, documentaries, classic b&w films, etc.

  17. YouDidWhatNow? says:

    With apologies to the Starving Theater Owners Association, the best possible option is to wait a little while and see the movie after it’s been released on disk. Either as a purchase or a rental.

    It’ll be way cheaper, and way more comfortable to watch at home. And there’s a *really* good chance that your A/V setup at home will provide an equally good experience, if not better, based on a quick survey of pretty much everyone I know.

    If you just simply *must* go to the theater, I agree with the matinee and no 3D. But honestly…the gloss is off the theater experience. Can’t say I’d miss the entire industry if movies suddenly all just went straight to disk.

    • These Are Not My Pants says:

      I mostly agree with you. But I already spend enough time on my couch so when a movie comes out that I really want to see, I like to make a night of it. Granted, I’ve gotten annoyed/pissed each of the last 4 times I’ve gone to a theater so I should probably learn my lesson already.

      • TheMansfieldMauler says:

        Yeah, the last 3 times I went to the movies I had to tell people behind me to quit kicking the seat, and only one of those times it was a kid. That and the fact that I’m not going to pay to see commercials has kept me away.

  18. dentam says:

    If you are lucky enough to still have a drive-in within a reasonable drive, the prices can’t be beat. For $22, I get admission for my family of four. That price is for a double feature, and both are usually first run. The concession prices are lower than a typical theater, and they don’t even mind if you bring in your own food.

    • dpeters11 says:

      Some require a permit however. One near me charges $5 per car to bring your own, but that also is worth $2 off a popcorn.

    • YouDidWhatNow? says:

      Meh. Dad took the family to a drive-in a few times when we were kids. He’d pop a full grocery bag full of popcorn to take with, and we’d take our own pop. So sure…save some money.

      …but the experience just isn’t good. Especially if you have to sit in a back seat. And the sound from the little speaker thing they had for each car…seriously. May as well be a silent movie.

      • dentam says:

        I think most drive ins today use fm frequencies for there sound, so you are getting stereo sound through your car radio. As for sitting in the back seat, most of the families I see at the drive in bring lawn chairs or blankets and sit in the grass. Very few actually sit in their vehicle.

    • Auron says:

      We have 2 drive-ins here, one (typically) shows 3 first-runs, admission iirc is $7 for adults and like $3 for kids. The other one shows 2 first runs, but repeats the 1st one after the 2nd. They charge $8 for adults, $1 for kids. I tend to avoid the 2nd one as it is not very well maintained.

  19. Nidoking says:

    You forgot “Sue the theater operators for price-gouging their concessions,” although the jury’s still out on whether the success or failure of that method will be up to a jury at all.

  20. Apeweek says:

    My solution – I bought an HD video projector (can be found for a few hundred dollars these days), and made a 10-foot movie screen in my basement.

    A good substance for movie screens is window shade material. It’s cheap, and very slightly reflective. I stretched it on a wooden frame.

    Added chairs, a decent sound system, a blu-ray player, a Roku box (for HD streaming movies from Netflix and Amazon), and now I have a great little movie theatre in the basement.

    It didn’t take long to pay for itself, from the savings I enjoy from not having to take the whole family to the theatre.

    The best part: The picture is always in focus!

    • thomwithanh says:

      +1

      Let’s not forget the lack of ads and trailers… none of that Regal FirstLook BS

  21. Sarek says:

    A couple of years ago, my friends from New York City visited me out here in the boondocks. We went to a movie. We were both shocked at the price — me because it had gone way up, them because it was far cheaper than they paid in New York.

    (He also wanted to know where the ticket-dispensing machines were. I reminded him of that quaint term, “box office.”)

  22. Hi_Hello says:

    i go to the movies for free …the last three time I’ve been. I don’t go often though.

  23. menty666 says:

    For what it’s worth, I’m not a huge fan of 3D movies, but the 3D version of Puss N Boots was worth it and well done; less gimmicky than other 3D “enriched” films.

  24. sodium says:

    I’d say we go to the movies about twice a month or so and pay full price for a new release. It’s not a big deal to us since we don’t do it that often. Plus we buy movie snacks (the same snacks the theater sells) at Target for about $1. I have a Regal Club card so sometimes I get a free popcorn (score!). Otherwise we just wait for Netflix/Redbox or go to the cheap theaters in the second run. Luckily, in our area there’s also a theater that plays new releases and 3D IMAX movies for $3-$4 cheaper than stadium seat megaplex theaters. Matinee on a weekend is like $4 and non-matinee is $6.

    • GOInsanity says:

      If twice a month is not that often, I’m curious as to what is often to you. I guess I’m just shocked since I haven’t been to a movie since the last Harry Potter came out. Before that, it was District 9 and before that, I am Legend. 2 of those 3 movies I didn’t even stay for all of (I am Legend just freaked me out and I was already ill from pain meds before we went to District 9, when body parts started popping off the guy, I ran for the restroom).

  25. thomwithanh says:

    I don’t know if you still can, but several years ago I used to buy Hoyts (later Regal once they were bought out) discount passes out of the Entertainment book, you got the bulk pricing without having to buy 50-100 at a time.

  26. cynner says:

    I miss the drive-ins, where you could bring whatever food you wanted and talk the whole time (we loved giving “Titanic” the full MST3K treatment!)

  27. hahatanka says:

    I used to work in the Tax Dept for AMC as a contract employee.
    AMC is a private company, although some information is available through the SEC filings.
    AMC loses money. Mostly to the high cost of the movies from Hollywood.
    Due to piracy, Hollywood is going totally digital, another high cost for AMC and will be the death of small town theatres. Digital equipment is extremely expensive compared to film. AMC destroys all film equipment when converting to digital.
    AMC is going toward the movie & drinks or movie & dinner at ALL AMC theatres.
    Single or twin AMC theatres were probably acquired though the Loews & Kerasotes mergers. AMC’s longterm goal is to only be megaplexes to keep labor & theartre costs to a minimum.
    The Tax Dept, oddly enough was a profit center. One Tuesday I earned more for AMC in net profit than any AMC theatre including NYC Empire 25 for that day.

  28. NotEd says:

    When I go to the Movies I can go to the Dollar theater near my home (not really a dollar). Matinees on the weekends are usually $1.50, so I end up spending most of my money on concessions. (I worked in a theater in High School, so I am well aware how badmovie popcorn is for you, but I just can’t quite get over needing a bucket to complete the move theater experience.) The seats are awful, though, so I usually go sans spouse.
    During the summer there is also a drive in about an hour west of home where both of us can get in for 8 bucks a pop for a double feature and we usually stop for food to bring in with us on the drive, making a pretty inexpensive night at the movies, depending on gas prices.

    Of course I had almost no options like this back when I lived in the Washington, DC suburbs. The only plus was that, as a major metro market, DC used to get a lot of free previews that it was relatively easy to get tickets to.

  29. dobgold says:

    If you’re anywhere neer 60 use Senior discount. They never check ID .

  30. amuro98 says:

    How we save at the movies:
    * We don’t go to the movies.
    * We get your movies from Netflix, Redbox, or the local library.

    Most theaters in the SF Bay Area charge $11-12 for a ticket. “Matinee” prices are $9-10 – assuming the theater even HAS matinee times anymore (most don’t.) If you decide on the 3D/IMAX upsell you’re easily looking at $15 or more per ticket. Yeah, Costco has those discounted passes but honestly, I can’t think of any movie I’d be willing to even pay $8 apiece when the DVD will be out shortly for $15, or we can rent it for a buck or even less than that if the library gets it. (our library has weird tastes…but hey, free is free!)

  31. bhr says:

    I do the local AMC for $5/6 before noon deal on weekends. My brother and I are both single atm, so unless we have a date who is dying for a movie there is no reason to go to a late showing when you can go at 11am, spend 10 bucks combined, and still have the rest of the day.

  32. NumberSix says:

    Let me fix that list for ya’:

    1) Eat first.

    Done.

  33. riguitargod says:

    The AMC theater near me only charges $4.50 for showings before 6 during the week, and showings before noon on the weekend. About twice a week I get out at 1pm, so last summer I saw just about every big movie I wanted to see on a Monday afternoon, with nobody in the theater. The only downside is that they still have a $3 upcharge for 3D on top of that.

    There’s also a big chain around New England (National Amusements) that has bargain tuesdays, where all showings are $6 (it may have been raised to 7 recently.. I forget!) This includes 3D, and the IMAX in Providence! I don’t think I’ve ever paid more than $6 for an IMAX movie because of this!

  34. Cacao says:

    What’s the stinkiest food you’ve ever smuggled into a theater? For me, it was chicken teriyaki. Dee-licious.

    Also, there is a way to use not-for-new-releases movie passes on new movies. What you do is use your movie pass on a been-out-a-while movie that starts 10-15 mins before the new movie you want to watch. Wait a little while and then switch theaters. VOILÀ.

  35. jake.valentine says:

    “Unless you’ve been living a hermit-like existence, you’ve likely stepped out to the movie theater at least once recently…”

    This is a false premise. I haven’t been to the movies in about 10 years and don’t live a hermit-like existence. Since home tvs and sound systems have improved dramatically there is little reason to go to the movies anymore. There are plenty of reasons to NOT go though!

  36. jerry101 says:

    Poop.

  37. john2156 says:

    Or just do what I do; wait three or four months for the movie to work its way through to the “cheap” theaters for a second run. See a movie for $2.00 with, at the theater I go to, a small popcorn and soda for another $4.00.

    Not only are the prices better, but you can benefit from what other people have said about the movie and decide whether it’s worth watching to begin with.

  38. sherrietee says:

    Actually no, I don’t, for just that reason of it costing a boatload of cash. Why the heck would I pay that much to sit in a theater to hear annoying teenagers chatting and texting rather than the movie I just paid an exorbitant amount to see? I’ll wait for Netflix.

  39. scottd34 says:

    My way to save on theater costs… don’t go. We havent been to the theater on years.

  40. bubbledumpster says:

    Went to see Girl with the Dragon Tattoo last night with the friends. Grand total for all of our tickets, a giant tub of popcorn to share, and two large sodas: less then $20.

    Yay for second-run theaters!

  41. bubbledumpster says:

    Went to see Girl with the Dragon Tattoo last night with three friends. Grand total for all of our tickets, a giant tub of popcorn to share, and two large sodas: less then $20.

    Yay for second-run theaters!