10 Tips for Saving Money on Movie Tickets

If you go to cinemas every week, you probably have wondered how to save on movie tickets; even if you watch only one movie per month, probably it’s exactly because these days watching movies in cinemas can be very expensive. A Saturday night IMAX 3D movie at San Francisco AMC Metreon costs $19.5, so a couple having an Iron Man 3 movie night can easily spend more than 50 bucks on tickets and snacks. That’s simply terrifying. Here are some of my tips on getting cheap movie tickets, they aren’t magic, just some simple rules and maybe a little bit extra work before you leave home for the cinema.

Tip #1: Go to matinees. Most theaters have matinee showings priced down to around $7, at least 30% off evening ticket price. And going early helps you avoid the (loud and lousy) crowd.

Tip #2: Keep your mouth shut. “No talking” is basic courtesy, but “no eating” can be a challenge. Yet the fact is, a popcorn/drink combo usually costs as much as a movie ticket and it is not even healthy.

Tip #3: Spend wisely on IMAX or 3D. See Gravity in 3D on the largest IMAX screen within a 25 miles radius of your home, but I, Frankenstein on Netflix. (Wait, why even bother watching it?)

Tip #4: Know your special discount. If you are a student or senior, you are likely to get tickets at a discounted price. Some cinema chains have students day and/or senior day as well, like AMC and Cinemark.

Tip #5: Cinema reward programs. AMC and Regal (who has no presence in SF/South Bay though) have reward programs that basically give back ~10% of your expense every time you spent $100 or $150 on tickets and concessions. If tip #2 does’t help, this sure does.

Tip #6: Online promotions. Credit cards, Fandango, Facebook pages and movie theaters sometimes have 2-for-1 special and many other deals, don’t miss them.

Tip #7: DVD promotions. For example, I bought a G. I. Joe Bluray disc for ~$10 and redeemed the attached code for a free ticket to G. I. Joe 2. I’m pretty sure the same type of promotion applies to many sequels.

Tip #8: Free screenings. If you don’t mind long waiting line and a full house of audience, sign up for free screening sites. Many screenings require RSVP code that is hidden in your local newspaper or radio station, but I’ve been to plenty that are open to everyone. Here are some sites you can sign up for or check regularly: advanced screenings, Gofobo, See It First, Fox Searchlight, Sony/columbia, Relativity Media.

Tip #9: Bulk purchase. Besides these tips, many theaters have discounted tickets (~30% off compared to regular price) sold in bulk quantity. If you are a frequent movie goer like me, check them out. Don’t get intimidated by buying 50 tickets at a time, that’s just half a year’s stock for a couple who see one movie a week.

AMC Theaters
Gold/Silver Experience tickets are sold online in bundles of 50 at $8/$6.5 per ticket. Gold ticket is valid for all regular showings while silver ticket is valid for movies after its second week of theatrical run (usually after the second weekend). IMAX, 3D and other surcharges apply to both tickets. Based on my experience, don’t use these tickets on IMAX or 3D movies because it usually does not save you any money at all. Unfortunately, Gold/Silver tickets are not eligible towards earning AMC stubs rewards. [Update: In April 2014 I redeemed a silver pass for a silver-pass-eligible $12.50 face price movie and was asked to pay $1.5 surcharge…damn!]

Cinemark Theaters
Cinemark includes Cinemark, Century, CineArts, Tinseltown and some Rave cinemas. In Bay Area, most Cinemark theaters are Century or CineArts. Platinum Supersaver tickets are sold online in bundles of 50 at $7.5 each. Platinum ticket is valid for all regular showings while IMAX, XD and 3D surcharges apply. The way Cinemark calculates the surcharge is that a platinum ticket always covers up to $11.75 value, and you pay the rest — so do use it for XD or 3D movies. For example, a Saturday morning 3D movie is about $11, which means you don’t need to pay any surcharge with a pass. Sweet!

Landmark Theaters
Landmark is the nation’s largest independent cinema chain, with three theaters in San Francisco, two in Peninsula and four in Berkeley area. Their discounted ticket, Aficionado tickets, are sold on-site and online. It is a booklet of 25 tickets at $8 each. Aficionado ticket is valid for all regular showings in Bay Area locations except that there is a flat $2.5 per ticket surcharge at the newly remodeled Embarcadero Center Cinemas and $2.5 for 3D movies. Keep in mind that Landmark matinee (first showing of each movie before 2pm) ticket can be as low as $6, so ask for regular price before using Aficionado ticket.

Camera Cinemas
Camera Cinemas have three theaters in San Jose area and cover movies from Hollywood blockbusters to foreign language award winners. Their discounted ticket program is a Discount Card that is sold on-site and online, you can refill values in the card in increment of 10 tickets at $7 each (used to be $6, price raised in March 2014). The card is valid for all showings except Saturday after 6pm. Surcharges apply.

Roxie Theater
Roxie is a San Francisco movie theater dedicated to indie films and documentaries. Monday is Roxie’s discount day, with ticket price marked down from $10 to $7.5. If you go there often, consider joining its membership program. Roxie Membership can be obtained by donating online at a monthly ($30) or yearly ($275 for individual; $500 for dual) basis, which entitles member free admission to all showings (except film festivals), five guest passes and free popcorn for every show. Roxie is a 501(c)3 organization, so your membership donation is tax deductible.

Stanford Theater
Stanford Theater in downtown Palo Alto is the heaven of Hollywood’s classic (black & white) movies. Discount ticket is sold on-site (cash only), one discount card of $24 for 4 tickets. Almost all Stanford Theater showings are double feature, so that’s $6 for two movies. Isn’t that awesome?

Tip #10: Second run cinemas. Why rush seeing movies the first weekend it’s out? Go to a second run cinema and save big! BlueLight Cinema in Cupertino and Capitol Drive-in in San Jose are two second run theaters that I know of in the area. BlueLight shows mostly second run mainstream movies, but also has some first run independent movies that are even hard to find elsewhere. $5.25 matinee, $6.5 after 6pm, and $2 Tuesday. Capitol Drive-in is the only drive-in movie theater in Bay Area. $7.5 for a double feature (or one new movie) and $5 Tuesday.

[last update: 2014-05-17]

Dear Ryan

Half Nelson (2006)

Lars and the Real Girl (2007)

Blue Valentine (2010)

Drive (2011)

The Place Beyond the Pines (2013)

Only God Forgives (2013)

It was after Wednesday midnight that I realized Tuesday was Ryan Gosling’s birthday. I should have remembered it. Two years ago I was at INFORMS, and had to drive to a suburban Charlotte Regal theater to see The Ides of March, which was then near the end of its theatrical stay; last year there was no Gosling in theatre at all, so I watched Lars and the Real Girl at home. Since this year I forgot to watch any of his movie on his birthday, I decided to write something about him. And this is it.

In fact, I did watched Only God Forgives and The Slaughter Rule later this week to make up my negligence. Anyone who watches these two movies together couldn’t fail to notice how much Ryan Gosling has changed in eleven years, from a Mouseketeer to the Sexiest Man Alive. Well, technically speaking People Magazine has unjustly overlooked Mr. Gosling for three years in a row, but I believe people won’t deny this fact. I mean, who else ever had fans protesting for him not being the sexiest and who else have 100 reasons to love?

So what happened in these years? Although I haven’t gone through Ryan Gosling’s entire filmography yet, missing a lot of his early films including The Believer, which brought him much praise (I am gonna save this one for next birthday!), I think 2010/2011 was the turning point. Before 2010, Ryan Gosling was high school football player (The Slaughter Rule, Remember the Titan), poor, unsophisticated country boy (The Notebook), inspirational yet drug addicted school teacher (Half Nelson), lonely, delusional stay-at-home guy (Lars and the Real Girl); he was sweet, handsome, always with the charm of innocence and exuberance. Then there came Blue Valentine and Drive, two masterpieces so rich, realistic, emotional, complicated that really made me believe in the magic of films. Blue Valentine was the sixth movie I watched in a movie theatre, and I didn’t even know Ryan Gosling back then. Now I am watching all new movies in theatre and he is my favorite actor. It was also in these two films, especially in Drive, Ryan Gosling turned a boy into a man, and discovered in his performance an ultimate attraction of masculinity. There is a scene in Drive, where the driver and the girl are in an elevator with a killer. The driver held the girl, kissed her passionately, then turned to the killer and crushed his skull into pulp. That tremendous contrast, is the capacity of a real man. What makes a man is not only muscles, fists and bloods, but also thoughts, emotions and faith; not only power and violence, but also love and compassion; it requires the perfect balance of tenderness and fearlessness. Gosling found that balance. Not only did he find it, he mastered it effortlessly as if to him that fatal attraction was just a natural outcome of ageing and maturity.

In the last three months of 2011, three movies starring Ryan Gosling were released in theatre. Drive, Crazy Stupid Love and The Ides of March brought him numerous awards including two Golden Globe nominations and made him not only the most versatile actor in Hollywood, but also a sex symbol. Then his mindset seemed start to change, in a very subtle way. He wasn’t bewildered by fame, he never appeared in stupid Hollywood blockbusters and maintained his standard high, but the enormous success of Blue Valentine and Drive are also too tempting to let go. So he continued collaboration with Derek Cianfrance in The Place Beyond the Pines and with Nicholas Widing Refn in Only God Forgives. When I heard the news, I fell into ecstasy and waited frantically, like a teenager waiting for his twenty-first birthday. Then they came, but with huge disappointment. I understand that part of this disappointment is due to the unreached expectation, but the more important part is that Ryan Gosling were simply repeating himself. Apart from the story settings, Gosling’s characters are the same man he was in Drive, and his performances were nothing new either. Watching him on big screen in three movies playing essentially the same guy, honestly I was getting a little bit bored.

The problem is, Ryan Gosling is now too aware of his irresistible hotness, he knows too damn well that he doesn’t need to do anything special to be attractive, and his allure shines most radiantly when he hides his soft, caring heart beneath his quiet, resolute look, and fights fiercely for his loved ones. What he doesn’t realize, is that to be a good actor isn’t always about being cool. Yes I love him as the driver, but I also love him as Dean, for bringing so much subtly and reality to the raw, poignant, indescribable suffering between love and marriage; and I love him as Lars, for giving a seemingly peculiar young guy a warm soul and plenty of likability to reconnect to the real world; and I love him as Mr. Dunne, for the arresting and convincing portrait of this complicated character struggling in his life through an unlikely yet heartfelt friendship. Those are all the best of Ryan Gosling, simple, genuine and powerful. So I do have a season to be disappointed, because in some sense, he is at his best in Drive and at the same time much better than just that.

I always believe Ryan Gosling is an Oscar-winner caliber actor, now he got one nod and Oscar owed him at least another. There is still a long way to go. His next project is, oh, holy shit, with Terrence Malick and Michael Fassbender. This will be extremely interesting. For one thing, I wonder what changes Malick’s trademark style can bring to him. For the other, Fassbender is without doubt Gosling’s strongest male co-star by far, their battle will be a feast and decide who is the best actor of their generation. My expectation is once again miles high. So Dear Ryan, please don’t let me down, and belated happy birthday.


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