How to save time and money on movies

Enjoy the next blockbuster your way: without the annoying ads and overpriced food. Follow these easy tips to save time and money at the movies.

How to save time and money on movies

Sidestep the pre-movie ads

Plenty of moviegoers are convinced that the very idea of a theatre running soft drink and credit card commercials before a movie portends the decline of civilization as we know it. Alas, the ads probably aren't going away anytime soon.

A captive audience of mostly young adults with nothing to do but stare at the screen is too mouthwatering for advertisers, and the exhibitors need cash any way they can get it. But you can cheat the system in three ways.

  • The first is simply to frequent movie theatres that don't show ads. And yes, there is such an animal. Some upscale theatres proudly announce they don't run commercials—it's part of their package of extras that lets them charge $2 to $6 more per ticket. More economically, seek out smaller or older theatres that never did run ads and still don't. Call ahead to find out.
  • Another ploy is to time your arrival to a minute or two before the true, announced showtime. If you're just going to be sitting there chomping on popcorn and waiting, why not chomp and wait in the lobby, watching people instead of commercials? This strategy works best in uncrowded theatres; otherwise, you might end up in the front row.
  • The most rebellious response to commercials is to ignore them. The no-talking rule is sacred in a movie theatre, but it doesn't kick in until the lights go down. These days, most of the advertising is packaged into what's euphemistically called "pre-show entertainment," which generally runs with the lights on. So chat away until the lights dim for the trailers. Talk about how much you hate ads in movie theatres.

Snack before or after the show

  • The food they sell you at the movies is expensive, messy, unhealthy and only available at the end of a long wait while the kids behind the counter move in slow motion. The theatres constantly try new tricks to keep us spending $14 for junk we'd never buy anywhere else, but they ignore the solution that will work best.
  • Are you ready for a radical new approach to dealing with movie food? Here it is: just don't eat the stuff. Have a nice meal before or after the show instead.Most of us eat popcorn and candy at the movies despite the hassles because...well, we've always eaten popcorn and candy at the movies. But it wasn't always thus.
  • "You know, for a long time there was no food, because the movie palaces didn't want their rugs and tapestries and upholstery ruined by gum and chocolate and spilled drinks," says Ross Melnick. "You really didn't have much food in the better theatres until after World War II." So consider boycotting the snack bar as an act of nostalgia for the golden age of cinema.

Secret weapon: movie clubs

  • The online sellers don't promote it—or even tell you about it—but you can avoid paying the extra $1 or $1.50 ticket fee if you've joined clubs that the theatre chains sponsor.
  • For example, if you're a member of AMC's Movie Watchers club, there's a place to punch in your membership number at MovieTickets.com.  Do it and you won't be charged the fee.
  • These clubs, by the way, are free and worth joining. "They're like frequent-flier programs for moviegoers," says Ross Melnick, co-founder of Cinema Treasures, an organization dedicated to saving old movie houses. "They want to reward brand loyalty, so the premiums are pretty good—like free tickets and free popcorn and drinks on certain days."
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