4 Ways to Enjoy The Movie Theater Experience For Less

Going to the movies is one of my favorite past-times – since December I’ve seen four movies on the big screen: The Princess and the Frog, It’s Complicated, Avatar, and Sherlock Holmes.

I love the big screen, the great sound, and the cushy seats. But prices for movies haven’t been so comfortable for consumers.  In 2009, the average cost of a movie ticket is $7.50, according to the National Association of Theater Owners.  Southern California, where I live, is an area with one of the highest costs of movie tickets.  Tickets now cost $10-$13 for evenings and $8-$10 for matinees.

I’m not going to give up going to movies, but I do take a few steps to make sure that I’m saving where I can, and that I am enjoying my movie experience to the fullest.

Ways to Spend Less at the Movies

1. Take advantage of Costco movie packs.

Costco movie tickets are the secret weapon in my fight against runaway prices.  Costco sells tickets to AMC and Regal Entertainment (which includes Edwards theaters) tickets for $15 a pair, or $7.50 per ticket.  These tickets are unrestricted and can be used for any feature film, although you must pay a surcharge if you want to watch a 3-D movie or if you are in Manhattan.  These $7.50 tickets represent the best value I’ve found.

My boyfriend and I use these tickets 95% of the time.  They can save up to 25%-30% off a couple’s movie outing.  [FFB: Many employers offer up similar types of programs.  Check with your HR Dept.]

2. Go to second-run or discount theaters.

These theaters are older and play movies that have been out in theaters a few months before.  That is how I caught a showing of Sex and the City for $1 when I was in Hawaii.  You might not want to catch an action-intense flick such as Ironman 2 in a second-run theater, but a comedy may be perfectly enjoyable in such a setting, and you’d be getting your laughs for less.  A few discount theaters where I live cost $3 to $6 per ticket, a 50%-70% discount over multiplex pricing.

3. Refrain from buying at the concession stands.

Movie theaters make a large percentage of their profits from popcorn, nachos, candies, and soft drinks.  At a theater near my apartment, large popcorn runs $7.  A large drink is $6 to $8.  Pretzels are almost $5 each.  You can easily spend more on snacks than you do on the movie tickets.

I can’t remember the last time I’ve purchased something from a movie theater concession stand.  Usually I’ll bring in a bottle of water in case I get thirsty, and I’ll bring in some dried fruit to snack on during movies – it’s healthier for my health and for my wallet.

4. Don’t be afraid to ask for a ticket voucher.

Once we bought tickets to a movie only to find that the only seats we can find were in the very very front where we’d have to strain our necks just to catch a glimpse of the screen.  We asked for voucher tickets at the concierge desk and decided to come back another day.  I’ve found that theater employees are very responsive to reasonable requests.

If the movie is too full, the screen or sound system had issues, or a baby is crying inside the theater, etc., don’t be afraid to leave and ask for vouchers to come back another day.

Do you have any other tips to help save at the movie theater?

Author bio: WellHeeled is a twentysomething whose exposure to personal finance begun at an young age, when Mom would show her the mortgage amortization schedule for the family home. Her perfect Sunday would be a day filled with brunch and an afternoon movie date. She has been writing about the intersection of life and money on Well Heeled Blog for 3+ years. You can subscribe via her RSS feed.

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Published or updated August 21, 2016.


  1. Mark Roberts says:

    If a theater near you is part of the Kerasotes and AMC theaters (http://www.kerasotes.com) They have a thing called the 5 Buck Club where after a movie has been in the theater for a bit you can see it for just $5. You need to join up for each person (my wife and I had to sign up separate, 1 card can’t get 2 people in) and in about a week we received our membership cards. Then every Thursday they send out an email with a list of movies you can see for $5. Show up with your card, pay the $5, and watch the movie! Easy and cheap! (https://www.fivebuckclub.net/)

  2. I’ve made a bit bigger investment with an HD projector. I kid you not, with a big wall and a decent set of surround sound speakers. You can hook it up to your computer or DVD player for a big screen experience. I’ve got 3 kids under 5 so nobody wants to come over and babysit our kids; we’ve improvised. 🙂 It works really well and we got the projector for $200! A bit of $ up front, but we’ve had it for 2 years now and love it!
    .-= andy´s last blog ..tillo13: @google, I can dig Buzz, but don’t show replies as emails in my inbox, keep them in the Buzz tab as a few Buzz replies can blow up an inbox. =-.

    • I’ve got 3 kids under 5 so nobody wants to come over and babysit our kids; we’ve improvised.

      Haha! I can relate to that! For us going to the movies is an absolute luxury because of the kids. The projector is an interesting option. I think it may work for some people but some movies are really worth seeing in the theater.

  3. I’m one of those people who factor in the cost of going to movies as part of my enjoyment. Like ballgames, I just expect the movies to be expensive. And I love get concessions at both places — an indelible part of the experience in my mind. I, do, though like to hit the matinee (which is still only $5.50 in my neck of the woods). But I don’t go to the second run theater. I tried it not too long ago, and it was uncomfortable and unpleasant after being used to roomier chairs, stadium seating and other amenities. I like to get the $4.00 kids pack (small drink and popcorn) for myself, since it costs less and I don’t need the calories in the big packs. So I get away with $9.50 for me. ($15 if my husband comes with me; he just sips out of my drink.) But I like your idea of movie ticket packs at warehouse stores.
    .-= Miranda´s last blog ..Get The Tax Breaks that are Coming to You: Child Tax Credit and Vehicle Sales Tax Deduction =-.

    • The second run theaters are probably different in every city. We used to have one in Manhattan that was just like a first-run theater so it was just as comfortable (miss that place!).

    • WellHeeledBlog says:

      Hi Miranda – $5.50? That’s amazing! I haven’t seen movie tickets at a first-run theater dip below $8.50 for the past couple of years. And I do agree, most of the second-run theaters I’ve been to are not as comfortable as the first-runs – they aren’t UNcomfortable, but just there is a difference. But for some movies I’m happy to give up the best sounds if I can have a $4 ticket.

      • We actually have a theater nearby that has a guy’s day and a women’s day and the tix are about $5.50. It’s during the week and maybe during the day but it makes for a good deal. They run other promotions as well.

  4. WellHeeledBlog says:

    Thanks for including my guest post!

  5. I live in California too and I feel strapped at the theatre as well. Now for IMAX shows, they run up to almost $20. If you want 3D experience, that will set you back a few bucks too for the 3D glasses.

    So I go to Costco like you mentioned to buy the discounted tickets. I believe FANDANGO also has BOGO FREE with you use your Visa Card. There’s a link out there for this deal.

    I really enjoyed AVATAR. But have not seen the other 3 mentioned.

    .-= moneyhoneysf´s last blog ..Steps to Saving Money or Getting out of Debt =-.

  6. $5.50 for a movie is great! I wish we had pricing like that nowadays here.

    .-= moneyhoneysf´s last blog ..Steps to Saving Money or Getting out of Debt =-.

  7. I agree with the first 2 (eventhough there is no Costco to take advantage of).

    I don’t necessarily agree with the last 2:
    It is no secret that the movies make their money from concession stands and that you should refrain from buying if you want to save money. But taking in your own snacks is probably not allowed. Better idea is to finish your snacks before you go into the theater…unless there are medical reasons…most people should be able to go 2 hours without food & drink.

    #4: I’ve received movie vouchers for poor showings before, but if you leave and come back you are breaking even…not spending less. Actually when you factor in gas and time it costs you more.
    .-= Lakita (PFJourney)´s last blog ..Should I Hurry to Pay off My Student Loans =-.

    • Hmm, I guess there is a fine line crosses when you bring in your own food. It doesn’t break a law but it is usually against the rules of the theater, though the rule is primarily there to make you spend money. You should be allowed to bring in water though but that’s my opinion.

      True about breaking even. But I think many times we don’t ask for the voucher when there’s a screaming kid in the R movie or when the theater is so packed you get a neck pain watching. So by getting the voucher you do get a second movie. Its all how you look at it.

  8. I’ve talked about this a few times on my blog, since Tim and I are movie addicts.

    Rewards programs have gift cards quite often. MyPoints has AMC and Regal, last time I checked. Also, Amazon has them. (Swagbucks, people. A $5 Amazon GC is only 45 SB — you can get that in 20 days or less!)

    My mom gets a ton of AMC passes through My Coke Rewards. She doesn’t even drink that much soda. She just grabs bottle caps that she finds lying on the ground, or if she sees a bottle on the top of the trash somewhere. (No, she doesn’t dig for them.)

    Finally, and most easily, there are movie previews. Generally, you want to look at your local paper(s) for these. In some cities, the weekly publications will be the main source.

    There are sometimes in-store pickups. Local merchants agree to give them away because the store will get extra foot traffic. These are the hardest, since they go quickly. Also, they tend to be during a weekday, so anyone who can’t get away from work has very little chance.

    The best ones are the mail-away. Since people are inherently lazy, if you can complete these, you will probably get 98-99% of the ones you send for.

    The only real hassle comes in that you need to get there early. They start at 7 p.m. (letting in around 6:30) and if you’re not there by 5:30 you’re gambling that there will be enough seats. If you have a companion, you’re gambling that you can actually sit together.
    .-= Abigail´s last blog ..What’s your Valentine’s Day plan? =-.

  9. We love our local cheaper theater. It is four bucks for a movie that is a few months old. I love it because we usually do not get out for the first run of the movies due to having two small kids. The concessions are also cheaper so if I take my daughter on her birthday we can still get some popcorn and only spend $15. The quality is better than at my house and the seating is good enough. My 4 year old talks about going to the movies for a good week or two after so the money is worth it! Going to the local AMC would set us back 16 or so depending on when we see it and that is without popcorn.
    .-= Ted´s last blog ..Ipad and other wants =-.

    • Know what I like about second run theaters too? They are usually less packed than the first-run theaters. I hate bringing the kids to a packed show, worrying about where to sit and trying to get an end seat in case one has to go potty (yes, I used the word potty). Much easier when the theater is more laid back and less full.

  10. We’re lucky enough to have a dollar theater (really $1.50 theater) near some close friends.. While we don’t see the newest movies, we do get to have a good time with friends while we see the movie.

    This makes movies extra fun and special, we only meet these particular friends once a month. They are about an hour away…

    Money Reasons´s last blog ..My Views On Robert Kiyosaki’s Financial Books

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