15 Ways to Save at the Movie Theater

By Emily Greenhill Pierce · October 26, 2022 · 7 minute read

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15 Ways to Save at the Movie Theater

A movie theater can be the perfect place for a date, a family outing, or an escape from life’s worries. But for many, rising ticket costs and expensive concessions aren’t worth the price of admission.

Fortunately, you can save money at the movies with discount tickets, price clubs, loyalty programs, and other savvy cinephile tips that allow you to sit back and enjoy the show.

Going to the Movies in 2022

Going to the movies has been a beloved American pastime since the 1920s, when the average ticket cost around $0.25.

Flash forward to 2022: The average price of a movie ticket has reached around $9.17, running as high as $16 in places like NYC. Concession prices have also been on the rise, with a small popcorn costing more than $7 in some theaters.

These days, many people are trying to prioritize saving money. With the popularity of streaming services like Netflix, Hulu, and others, coupled with saving money on at-home snacks, it can be hard to justify the price of a night out at the movies.

Movie theaters may be expensive, but there’s nothing like the smell of buttery popcorn, the thrill of the lights dimming, and the communal experience of movie watching.

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15 Clever Ways to Save Money at the Movies

Many of us don’t want to give up on that big-screen experience of going out to the movies. If you’re the kind of person who’s focused on easy ways to save money, you’ll probably be interested in how to spend less at a movie theater.

Here are 15 cost-cutting tips to inspire you to get off the couch and into the cinema without bungling your budget.

1. Avoiding Premium Formats

While it’s understandable to want to see the latest superhero film in 3D or a summer blockbuster in an IMAX theater to feel more immersed in the experience, the additional price of a premium film format ticket can add up.

On average, a 3D film can cost $4 dollars more than a regular adult movie ticket, with an IMAX experience running an additional $6 dollars. You might want to save those extra bucks for a box of Milk Duds.

Be sure and check the movie listings. It’s easy to buy tickets to a 3D or IMAX showing without even realizing it, spending extra dollars unnecessarily.

2. Catching a Matinee

Many theaters offer discounts on matinee movies, to encourage attendance during off-peak hours. Matinee times can start anywhere from 9 am to 11 am and run from 3:30 pm to 6 pm.

Matinee ticket prices can be 30% less at some chain movie theaters and (bonus) you could have the theater all to yourself.

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3. Attending on Discount Days

In addition to cheaper seats at matinees, you can also save money at the movies by attending on certain days. Many movie theaters advertise price deals on certain weekdays. Some theaters have “Discount Tuesdays,” for instance, offering $5 dollar tickets all day, including for the evening showings.

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4. Eating Beforehand

Eating a meal or a snack before the movie may not sound like a radical way to save money, but since concessions can run more than the ticket prices, it’s a sure-fire way to cut costs. Remember, sneaking food into the theater is still against the rules.

5. Sharing the Snacks

Can’t stand the thought of a movie without popcorn? Consider sharing the concession spoils with a friend or family member. Say yes to spending the additional dollar on the extra-large popcorn, and consider bringing individual brown lunch bags to divvy up the kernels.

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6. Buying at the Box Office

It might be convenient to buy a movie ticket in advance online, but many movie websites charge an additional fee (typically between $1 and $2) for the service. Avoid that: You can still buy your tickets early at the box office, then kill time by filling up on inexpensive candy from a drug store.

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7. Using Price Clubs

Some wholesale price clubs sell discounted cinema tickets and gift cards for big-name movie chains. If you have a membership at Sam’s Club or Costco, you can pick up some movie savings along with your bulk toilet paper.

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8. Finding Customer Loyalty Programs

Many megachain and independent movie theaters like to reward repeat customers with loyalty programs. They can offer membership cards where you can receive and use points on tickets and concessions. The more you go, the more you save.

9. Purchasing a Membership Pass

In addition to loyalty programs, some movie theaters, such the Alamo Drafthouse, offer seasonal membership deals. Depending on where you live, you could pay $16.99 to $29.99 a month for unlimited movies. (One showing per day.)

Other memberships offer discounted tickets for a year, and special deals on companion tickets and concessions.

10. Signing Up for Local Theater Newsletters

With a few clicks on the keyboard, you can sign up for online newsletters and email alerts from your favorite movie theaters. Doing so can ensure you won’t miss out on the latest ticket and concessions deals.

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11. Finding Deals for Groups

Movie theaters want to fill their seats, so many will offer discounts on large purchases for groups of 25 or more. This could help you save up to $1 per ticket for a company outing or birthday party.

12. Finding Specialty Discounts

Almost all movie theaters offer discounts for different groups. In addition to a reduced-price child ticket, there are customarily lower prices for senior citizens, students, and military discounts for active and retired veterans.

13. Finding Summer Movie Programs

Kids need things to do in the summer, and their parents need them to do things! Some movie theaters, like Regal Cinemas, offer special $2 dollar tickets on certain summer weekdays for animated and family films. The offers can vary by region.

Recommended: Guide to Saving Money During the Summer: 10 Tips

14. Going to a Drive-In

Another summer pastime is a night at the drive-in. Since the pandemic, drive-in movie theaters have made a comeback, opening up in dense metro areas as well as in rural ones.

Drive-in tickets and concessions can be cheaper than at a traditional movie theater. And if the drive-in charges by the car, call your buddies! You can split the entry fee and save some dough.

15. Taking Advantage of Credit-Card Cashback Benefits

While you won’t see immediate savings when buying that large diet soda, using a credit card with cashback benefits at the movie theater can yield rewards down the line. Some credit cards can offer up to 5% cash-back rewards on entertainment purchases.

The Takeaway

The price of movie tickets and concessions can be a bit shocking. But if you’re willing to look for discounts, attend off-peak showings, save money by snacking at home, and try some of the other suggestions above for saving money at the movies, you can lower your costs. That way, the only shock you’ll get is from a really good plot twist.

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What day is cheapest to go to the movies?

Weekdays can be the cheapest days to go to the movies. Some movie theaters offer reduced prices Monday through Wednesday.

What’s the best time to go to the movies?

In terms of cost, a weekday matinee generally offers cheaper movie tickets — from opening time until 3:30 pm or 6 pm, depending on the venue. Theaters also tend to be less crowded during matinee showings.

Is it illegal to bring outside snacks to the movies?

Almost all movie theaters don’t allow outside food. While not illegal, the theater could deny you entry into the venue.

Photo credit: iStock/bombermoon

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