16 Ways to Save Money at the Movies

Saving at the Movies

Saving at the Movies by Pat O'Malley (CC BY-ND)

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Saving at the Movies
Saving at the Movies by Pat O'Malley (CC BY-ND)

It's Showtime

Cinema chains do a land-office business in the summer, when audiences seek an escape from the heat and the humdrum of daily life. But even this hideaway isn’t the cheap entertainment venue it once was. With the average ticket price now hovering around $9, never mind the outlay for snacks (and babysitter), how can you get in some quality screen time without overspending your entertainment budget?

Related: 26 Historic Movie Theaters Across America Worth Visiting

Consider a Subscription Plan

Know When to Go

It's no secret that a matinee time slot at most cinemas is cheaper than a Friday-night showing of the same movie. Movie theaters have traditionally offered discounted matinee prices, and early birds can really save. For example, at Chicago’s AMC River East, moviegoers can catch shows for $6.82 before noon, compared to an evening price of $13.65 and $11.97 noon to 4 p.m. Some theaters also cut prices on certain days regardless of the hour. The next time you want to see the latest box office hit, check if it's cheaper on a Tuesday than a Friday. The AMC chain has Discount Tuesdays with ticket prices of $5 or $6 depending on location.

Use Daily Deal Sites
Evan Lorne/shutterstock

Use Daily Deal Sites

Avoid paying full price for movie tickets by keeping an eye on daily deal sites and apps for discounted tickets. Groupon, for example, regularly offers movie tickets for half price. Offers.com is another place to look.

Cinemark Movie Club
Courtesy of costco.com

Buy Movie Tickets in Bulk

Many things are cheaper when you buy them in bulk, and that can include movie passes. Warehouse clubs such as Costco and Sam's Club sell movie tickets in multi-packs for much less than the total when sold individually. You may be able to buy a year's worth of movies for the entire family at a cut rate. For example, Costco sells a six-month Cinemark membership for $46 that includes access to six movies at any time for any film. That’s about $7.65 per show. There’s also a 20% discount on concessions.

Check for Theater Discounts

Check for Theater Discounts

In addition to having discount days, movie theaters may also offer memberships with special prices on concessions and rewards programs that let customers earn free tickets or snacks. For example, the Cinemark Movie Fan program is free to join, and members can get free popcorn and drink refills and also accumulate points toward free movie passes and refreshments with each purchase.

Avoid Mainstream Theaters
Courtesy of pdxmonthly.com

Avoid Mainstream Theaters

Instead of going to the biggest movie theater in town, hit up the drive-in or dollar theater. Drive-ins often charge a flat fee per car, meaning you can easily get four to six people to a movie for less than $25. As for so-called dollar theaters, some still are dollar theaters or darned close. At Allen Park Digital Cinemas in Allen Park, Michigan, evening shows are $1.50 and matinees are $1. Customers also get a free refill on soda and popcorn. 

Related: 43 Best Dollar Theaters Across the Country

at movie theater

Watch for Free Screenings

You can sign up online for lists like Gofobo or Advance Screenings and learn where and how to access free movie screenings in your area. You can also listen to the radio; many radio shows give away free movie screenings as contest winnings.

Subscribe to Moviepass
Courtesy of moviepass.com

Consider a Subscription Plan

Monthly subscription plans can mean significant savings for avid moviegoers. MoviePass, which has seen its share of financial difficulties, had been charging $10 a month to see one movie a day, which was a shockingly good deal at the time. And that’s probably the reason MoviePass was running out of money last year. The company is now charging $20 a month. The deal can still yield savings for movie fans, but MoviePass isn’t the only subscription option. AMC Theatres is now offering a monthly Stubs plan for $20 to $24 depending on location called AMC Stubs A-List that lets subscribers see up to three movies a week, including Imax and 3D movies.

Ask Your Credit Card Company

Ask Your Credit Card Company

Several credit card companies offer movie-related perks to cardholders. The Citi Private Pass program, for example, is open to holders of Citi credit and debit cards and sometimes offers free or deeply discounted movie passes.

kid watching movie

Go Family-Style

Taking in a family-oriented film during the summer is another way to save at the movie theater. Chains like Regal, AMC, and Cinemark often have summer specials or “movie camps” for kids where moviegoers can get in for as little as a $1 and enjoy refreshment specials as well.

Find Freebies

Find Freebies

Seeing a movie doesn’t necessarily have to cost anything. Many municipalities and libraries offer shows for cheap or for free. In some places, even the popcorn is free.

Senior Movie Discounts
Avoid the Snack Bar

Steer Clear of the Snack Bar

Save even more money by avoiding the concession stand. Movie theaters post profit margins of 85 percent or higher on drinks and snacks, according to estimates cited by The Hollywood Reporter. An obvious solution is to buy that box of Sour Patch Kids at the grocery store instead of spending $5 at the theater, but many cinemas ban outside food and beverages. Bars in cinemas seem to be increasingly popular but are stocked with overpriced beverages designed to loosen the purse strings. Arrive at the theater with self-control in hand. 

Related: 25 Candy Stores That Will Make You Feel Like a Kid Again

Doublecheck Combo Prices
Jacob Ammentorp Lund/istockphoto

Doublecheck Combo Prices

If you do hit the concession stand, don’t assume the prices on combination deals for items like popcorn and drinks are necessarily cheaper than buying them separately. Sometimes they aren’t, and the combo promotion is just a form of upselling. 

Check Reviews
Studio Movie Grill/yelp.com

Check Reviews

Why waste good money on bad movies? Check out reviews before you shell out money for a show you won’t really enjoy. Rotten Tomatoes, RogerEbert.com, and countless other sites offer a look at what’s worth a trip to theater.

Stream at Home
Milan Markovic/istockphoto

Rent the DVD or Stream at Home

Finally, remember that box-office hits cost less when viewed on DVD or streamed at home using Netflix, Amazon Prime, and other sites rather than in a theater. The savings multiply when the entire family is watching. If you really want to reduce household expenses, make movie outings a rare treat and turn movie nights at home into special occasions.

AAA Logo on Left Side of a Hanging Blank White Sign
Ken Wolter/shutterstock

Check Your Clubs and Associations

Sometimes organizations or associations you’re in offer movie discounts. For example, the auto club AAA offers discounts on movie tickets to a variety of theaters such as AMC and Regal and boasts savings of up to 48%.