That's the Ticket: The Cost of Seeing a Movie
If there's anything more American than apple pie, it's the movies. The movie theater—with its bright lights, jumbo popcorn buckets, and silver screen—is an iconic symbol of our culture. It's also a $29.9 billion industry worldwide, with 1.4 billion tickets sold in the U.S. and Canada each year and more than two-thirds of the population attending movies.
The theater is still the only place to go for first-run mainstream movies. In 2009, the average ticket price was $7.50, up 4.4% from 2008, but prices vary widely by region. Once rare but increasingly common, and popular, 3-D versions of films command decidedly higher prices; in New York, some theaters charge nearly $20 for a first-run showing of a 3-D feature such as "How to Train Your Dragon." Despite the ticket price, the number of American 3-D screens doubled between 2008 and 2009.
Second-run or discount theaters used to be the place for budget-conscious film fans who wanted the theater experience but not the theater price. Now the shortened window between theatrical release and DVD release is eating into the market, so options can be limited. Watch out for Milk Duds, though, because discounts usually don't extend to concessions.
Art house/specialty theater
Art-house and other specialty theaters offer an upscale alternative to the multiplex. In Madison, Wis., Sundance Cinemas 608 screens independent, documentary, and foreign films in smaller theaters with reserved seating, bar service, and restaurant-caliber food. Of course, the special treatment comes with a special price: Base ticket prices for an evening showing are $9 with an amenity fee of up to $3 on weekends (less during the week and nonprime viewing) tacked on.
In 2009, the average ticket price for a first-run movie was $7.50, up 4.4% from 2008.
DVD rental stores
With 45% of the market, brick-and-mortar rental stores still are the most popular choice for accessing films for at-home viewing, according to NPD, a New York-based consumer research company. However, subscription services, kiosks, and on-demand services are eating into the market, and the effects are evident. Earlier this year, Movie Gallery, owner of Hollywood Video, filed for bankruptcy and announced that it would close all its stores. Even so, some still prefer browsing in person to browsing online, and it doesn't get any easier than popping in a DVD.
DVD rental kiosks
Born at McDonald's as another way to draw clientele, the $1 a night rental Redbox kiosk is gaining ground on the brick-and-mortar rental market. With more than 24,000 nationwide locations at select McDonald's, Walgreens, Walmarts, and leading grocery and convenience stores, Redbox is adding new kiosks at a rate of nearly one per hour.
The company caters to clients seeking convenience—and value. The touch-screen kiosks take debit or credit cards and dispense new releases from a catalog of about 200 titles. You can rent at one kiosk and return at any other. You also can reserve a DVD online and have it held at your chosen location for 24 hours; iPhone users can download an app that helps them find the nearest location, browse titles, and reserve DVDs. There are no late fees—the tab just keeps running up at one-dollar increments until 25 days, at which point there's no need to return the DVD because you own it.
Recognizing the growing popularity, Blockbuster is shedding some traditional stores and setting up kiosks to compete.
If you don't mind watching on your PC or Mac, you can view movies for free on Hulu.
Subscriptions and on-demand
Cable and satellite television companies have offered pay-per-view or other on-demand options to their customers for years. Other services—some paid and some free—that don't require contracts have entered the market by offering home DVD delivery, streaming, downloading, or some combination. There are many on-demand choices, but some require that you watch your rental within a certain timeframe or limit your ability to pause and restart.
Build your own library
Some movie fans buy DVDs with the intent of keeping the ones they like and selling the ones they don't on eBay, Craigslist, or other secondary markets.
Some fans still like to purchase DVDs from retailers or movie stores for their in-home libraries.
Public libraries rent DVDs, including new releases. Online reservation tools allow you to put titles on hold—even before they appear in the libraries—and then alert you when the title is in. You'll often wait weeks or even months for new releases, but other DVD titles take just days to receive. And it's free.
Home & Family Finance® Resource Center