When it comes to movies, the only thing that has increased more than the number of CGI explosions per film is the price of a movie ticket. In 2013, the average ticket price was $8.13, a 35 percent increase from ten years prior, and a 49 percent increase from 1993's price. And keep in mind that while this number factors in 3D surcharges, it also factors in matinees, and discount tickets for kids and senior citizens. (It also outpaces inflation.) Those in large cities like New York, San Diego, and Los Angeles find themselves paying fourteen to sixteen dollars for a first-run, non-3D movie (and that’s before weeping when faced with the prices at the concession stand).
It’s hard to believe that there may be magical lands out there where moviegoing is still an affordable experience — but there are. We contacted the service MoviePass, which offers unlimited movie tickets for a monthly fee and surveys prices all across the U.S., and asked them where you can find the cheapest ticket around. Their best bet? The Blanchester Showplace Cinemas in Blanchester, Ohio, a tiny three-screen theater where you can buy a ticket for a first-run film for four dollars. “I didn’t think we were the lowest!” said Blanchester Cinemas owner Casey Schrichten when we called to tell her of her accomplishment. “We used to do three dollars…and it was my booking agent who said, ‘You gotta raise the ticket prices or they’re not going to give you movies anymore.’”
Schrichten said that she and her fiancé bought the theater ten years ago when the prices were still only one dollar a ticket. “We don’t make a profit, and we both work fulltime jobs. We joke that it’s our movie service to the town,” said Schrichten, who’s a technology coordinator for a local school district when she’s not working at the theater on the weekends.” What we earn there pays the bills [to run the theater], and that’s pretty much it.” A rural village about forty miles outside of Cincinnati, Blanchester has 4,200 residents who currently can nab a very cheap seat to see Edge of Tomorrow, How to Train Your Dragon 2, and Maleficent. (Monday through Thursday, the cinema has only one showing per movie a day, all at 7 p.m.)
While Blanchester’s movie house may indeed offer the best single deal, MoviePass data shows that as a whole, the greater Cincinnati market isn’t among the cheapest regions; Blanchester is a bargain-basement outlier, and the area’s total average price is $9.55. The Corpus Christi, Texas area holds the title for cheapest market at around $6.15. Also notable for their thriftiness are Fargo, North Dakota and Bangor, Maine, where tickets at the Hollywood Cinemas run $7 and $6.25 for a matinee. At the other end of the financial spectrum lie some unsurprisingly pricey locations: Los Angeles, San Diego, and New York are all among the most expensive markets for movies. A regular non-3D evening ticket at the AMC 84th Street Cineplex in Manhattan will cost you $16.50 — more than four times the price of a seat in Blanchester.
So will Casey Schrichten ever raise prices at the Showplace Cinemas? She’s not sure, though she does know that any drastic upgrades — such as a requirement to switch to digital projectors — would be prohibitively expensive. “Blanchester is not a wealthy community by any means,” she said. “There’s nothing for the kids to do in town, and that’s why we wanted to keep it going.” For now at least, their Friday night date spot is still screening the blockbusters — and it’s still the best deal in town, if not the whole country.
Photo credit: ThinkStock, Scottamus/Flickr — Blanchester Cinemas, 2009
Think you know a cheaper first-run theater? Let us know in the comments and we'll round them all up. And remember, we are talking about full-price adult seats for first-run movies!