How to Go to the Movie Theater for Less (or Free)

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I love going to the movie theater to see a great new movie (or sometimes even a bad one). When I was in high school, my friends and I went to the theater almost every single Friday. Back then the tickets were only about $5.

Here in Chicago, a regular admission ticket is $11. That still blows my mind every time we go to the theater (which isn’t too often now, considering the price). Most of the theaters here have also dropped their student discounts, so there seems to be no relief unless you’re under 12 or over 65.

Luckily, there are ways to get around paying full price for a movie. Here are a few tips:

Go See the Matinee

Prime movie seeing time is in the evening. If you go just a few hours earlier to a matinee time, then you can save a few bucks. Most theaters consider a matinee to be any show time before 4 or 5PM (even on weekends!).

The savings are notable. For example: we mostly go to AMC theater in Chicago. The regular admission is $11, but by going to a matinee the ticket is just $9, savings two bucks. If you go with a friend or a date, that’s a saving for $4. If you go to the movies once a month, that’s a savings of $48 for the pair in a year. Not monumental, sure, but it’s less. With those savings you can go to two extra movies.

Utilize Special Theater Deals

A movie theater’s main goal is to get butts in seats. Sometimes they’ll run special promotions or programs to entice patrons during the slower show times.

AMC offers a program called A.M.Cinema. How it works is if you go see a movie before noon, the price is considerably cheaper. So, for our beloved AMC here in Chicago, the A.M.Cinema price is $6. Yes, $6. That’s almost half the price of a regular $11 ticket. This program is valid on the weekend as well. A $6 movie doesn’t seem like a bad idea after brunch on a Sunday morning.

Kerasotes Theater offers a Five Buck Club. By signing up for a free card to join the club, you have an opportunity to see movies for only $5. These are first run movies, but you have to wait until the film has played a certain number of weeks (2 or more, depending on popularity). There’s an email newsletter sent out every Thursday with a list of all the eligible films. Regular film admission for Kerasotes in Chicago is $11, so that’s saving of over 50%!

Check with theaters in your area to see if they have similar programs or even loyalty programs that save you money.

Go to a Discount Second Run Theater

This is something that we unfortunately don’t have a lot of here in Chicago, but can be prevalent in smaller cities and towns. These discount or 2nd run theaters will play movies after they’ve finished running at the normal “1st run” theater.

When I was a teenager we occasionally went to The Dollar Theater, where tickets were only a buck or two. The only down side was you had to wait an extra month or two before the movies were available there. Also these theaters are usually older buildings which aren’t as technically amazing as the big chains. But the price is unbeatable.

Visit Cinema Treasures to search for classic theaters in your area that now function as discount theaters.

Go to Free Screenings

This is, in my opinion, the best way to go see a movie in the theater. Not only is it 100% free, but you usually get to see the movie before it comes out in theaters. Even better, sometimes members of the cast and crew show up for Q&As and other promotions (this is not as typical, unfortunately).

These are a little more tricky to get tickets to and take a little bit more effort to attend, but if you want to see the movie it is totally worth it. You can read more about advanced movie screenings and my tips here.

These are just a few tips, there may be even better deals available in your area (which I’d love to hear about).