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“Spider-Man: No Way Home” debuted in theaters last weekend to a huge box office win. The superhero film not only beat estimates, grabbing $260 million in North American theaters on opening weekend, but it’s now the second-biggest domestic movie debut ever, behind “Avengers: Endgame,” which brought in $357 million in April 2019, according to Box Office Mojo.
And that’s just one of a slew of movies in theaters now, including “Encanto,” “Ghostbusters: Afterlife” and “West Side Story.” Throw in soon-to-be-released titles, such as “The Matrix Resurrections” and “The King’s Man,” and there’s a lot to see.
Movie tickets can quickly get expensive. But with some planning, you likely won’t have to pay full price whether you see the latest movies in a physical theater or on the web.
Seek out discount movie tickets
Several options let you shave down the cost of viewing so you don’t have to pay full price.
Consider movie membership programs: AMC Stubs A-List, Regal Unlimited and Cinemark Movie Club are among the membership programs where — for a subscription fee — you’re entitled to a certain number of tickets per month.
In some cases, these can be a deal even if you see only one movie a month. For example, AMC Stubs A-List costs $23.95 per month in San Francisco (pricing varies by city) and entitles you to up to three movies every week. But an Imax seat for AMC’s San Francisco theater costs $25.98 when reserved online, making it cheaper to join the membership program versus purchasing individual tickets.
Just read the fine print. For example, new AMC Stubs A-Listers have a three-month minimum commitment, so this isn’t a good deal if you intend to see only a couple of movies during that period.
Turn to warehouse clubs and employee savings portals: Depending on your affiliations, you might have access to cheaper tickets. Check with your employee benefits program, as many sell discounted tickets. Warehouse clubs like Costco can help you save money by sometimes offering cheap movie tickets or gift cards at discounts. Right now, Costco is selling $50 Cinemark gift cards for $40.
Many theaters also offer discounts to members of the military, teachers, older adults and students with valid ID. Even if you don’t see it advertised, ask.
Look for discounts for off-peak attendance: Many theaters offer discounts for weekday or early showings. Regal Crown Club members can get discounted tickets and 50% off popcorn at most theaters every Tuesday, while AMC offers 30% off tickets before 4 p.m. at most theaters.
Considering you might not be keen on sitting in a packed theater in the midst of a pandemic, watching the Monday matinee might be preferable anyway.
Turn to streaming instead
You might not even need a theater to watch the latest Hollywood hit. Since the pandemic began, many film studios and theater chains have agreed to shorten their exclusive theatrical window before movies hit streaming services. In the past, you might have waited months to watch the biggest blockbuster in your bedroom. These days, it’s sometimes just a few weeks — if that.
For example, Disney’s animated film “Encanto” was released in theaters Nov. 24, but it will stream via Disney+ on Dec. 24. Not only can that help you avoid theaters, you won't need separate tickets for each viewer. A Disney+ subscription starts at $7.99 per month, so a living room full of people can watch “Encanto” in your home, as many times as you replay it, for that price.
Sometimes, you might not even have to wait. “The Matrix Resurrections” debuts on HBO Max on Dec. 22 — the same day it hits theaters. HBO Max typically costs $14.99 per month for ad-free service.
Plus, there are many ways to stream movies for free or cheap. Many services offer free trials or limited-time offers.
Additionally, some libraries let members stream free TV shows and movies through services like Hoopla Digital and Kanopy. While these services might not have the newest films, many options are critically acclaimed. For example, Kanopy is streaming the 2017 Academy Award Best Picture winner “Moonlight.”
Earn rewards for your movie spending
If you do spend significant money on movies, at least get rewarded. Earning cash back helps offset your costs.
Some credit cards offer bonus rewards for entertainment purchases, which typically include movie theaters. For example, some entertainment rewards credit cards dole out as much as 4% cash back on entertainment spending, including theaters, amusement parks, bowling alleys and zoos.
And increasingly more credit cards offer bonus rewards for streaming services. NerdWallet found rates as high as 6% cash back on select U.S. streaming subscriptions.