That’s the Ticket: The Cost of Seeing a Movie

Viewing options for seeing a movie range from the traditional to the cutting edge, and there are price points for penny pinchers and high rollers alike.

First-run films

The theater is still the only place to go for first-run mainstream movies. In 2009, the average ticket price was $7.50, but prices vary by region. Once rare, now fairly common and popular, 3-D versions of films command higher prices.

Second-run theaters

The shortened window between theatrical release and DVD release is eating into the market, so options can be limited. The cost of admission varies, but it beats paying full price. For example, all shows at the Crest Cinema Center in Seattle are $3. Watch out for Milk Duds, though — the discounts usually don't extend to concessions.

Art house/specialty theater

These theaters offer an upscale alternative to the multiplex. Of course, special treatment comes with a special price: Some tack on amenity fees to already high ticket prices. An adult ticket could cost anywhere from $6.75 to $12.

DVD rental stores

With 45% of the market, brick-and-mortar stores are still the most popular choice for accessing films for at-home viewing, as some movie fans still prefer browsing in person to browsing online. Costs vary, but expect to pay around $1 to $5 a DVD.


The $1 a night rental Redbox has more than 24,000 kiosks nationwide. You can rent at one kiosk and return at any other. You also can reserve online and have a DVD held at your chosen location for 24 hours. Blockbuster is shedding some traditional stores and setting up kiosks to compete.

Subscriptions and on-demand

Have DVDs sent to your home or access them online. Cable and satellite television companies have offered on-demand options for customers for years. Now there are many other choices, but some require that you watch your rental within a certain timeframe or limit your ability to pause and restart. Here are the most popular services:

  • Netflix: Combined home-delivery DVD and on-demand; subscription levels from $8.99 to $47.99 a month

  • Hulu: Free computer-only, ad-supported on-demand service; paid Hulu Plus subscription service for $9.99 a month (available later this year).

  • iTunes: Easy access on-demand via Wi-Fi; prices vary, with new release rentals for $3.99 and purchases for $14.99.

  • Amazon Video On Demand: Watch instantly on a Mac, PC, or select HDTVs (or regular TV with separate device). Devices are available for less than $100; rentals are as low as $2.99, with some special purchases less than $5.


Public libraries rent DVDs for free, including new releases. Online reservation tools allow you to put titles on hold and then alert you when the title is in.


Some fans still like to buy DVDs from retailers or movie stores for their own in-home libraries. New releases generally run from $15.99 to $29.99 depending on store specials and if you're buying Blu-ray or not. Older releases are usually around $4.99.