Seeing movies in NYC is a complete rip-off. After just 16 3D IMAX movies, you’ll have spent enough to buy a 3D TV. Don’t give up on the movies altogether, though. Somewhere between the tall soda-slurping assholes and the dirty theatres of New York, you can find ways to enjoy the movies without breaking the bank.
Nothing compares to a booming sound system, huge projection screen, the confirmation of a few hundred laughing moveigoers and the smell of America’s biggest (popped) crop, covered in butter. This is our guide for making the most of the silver screen.
Paying for Tickets
MoviePass — Apply Netflix’s all-you-can-eat model to the cinema and you have MoviePass, a new subscription-based service for people with knee-high ticket stub collections. It’s fairly simple, if not a little roundabout: Head to almost any theatre, fire up the MoviePass app (which confirms your location via GPS) and purchase a ticket. That will clear your MoviePass-branded debit card for one transaction, about $7-$15 in Manhattan (depending on time and theatre). The subscription rate varies by billing location, but when we signed up it was $29.99 per month. (For some god-forsaken reason, you’ve got to commit to a yearly contract and if you cancel, you basically lose every dollar you’ve saved.) It doesn’t yet support advance ticketing, 3D or IMAX, and for now it’s invite or reservation-only.
But if you’re paying $14 for a movie, you’re doing something wrong. AAA, Costco, many HR departments, schools and organizations all buy and sell discount movie vouchers. NYU’s own Ticket Central sells prepaid certificates for every major theatre, and they’re all between $6.50 and $8.50, though some have special Manhattan surchages. Each theatre has its own restrictions on pass redemption, but as an example, consider AMC: If you buy an evening ticket at the box office for a 2D movie, you’ll pay $14. (WTF!?!) If the movie debuted recently, you can use an $8 gold AMC pass to buy the ticket. And if it’s not new, a $6.50 silver pass will earn you a ticket at less than half the cost of normal admission. (Protip: Always buy silver passes because you can upgrade at the theatre if the movie is still in its honeymoon phase.) You still save money if you’re seeing an IMAX or 3D movie, but you will have to pay the surchage separately.
At $6.50-$9.50 per showing, your MoviePass would break even after 3–5 movies. But if you’re more of an IMAX or 3D kind of moviegoer, it might make sense to just stick with vouchers.
If you buy a lot of advance tickets, make it your business to find deals for Fandango and MovieTickets.com—we’ve seen numerous on Groupon and LivingSocial, but it’s probably easiest to set up an alert on deal-monitoring websites like Yipit. Or for an easy bargain, buy a discounted gift card through PlasticJungle, the StubHub of gift cards. If you buy a lot of advance tickets for movies at AMC, join AMC Stubs ($12/year, cheaper during promotions) and Fandango will waive your convenience fees. (Plus you get popcorn upgrades! Yay!) If you’ve updated to iOS 6, tickets purchased through Fandango can be added to Passbook for paperless admission.
And need we mention, there’s a reason every Duane Reade within three blocks of a theatre has candy boxes on display. You’re already getting screwed on the ticket, so do sneak in as much candy as you want.
Seeing a screening in New York is an experience, and it’s easy if you’re willing to wait. Sign up at The Screening Exchange for regular invites and make sure to check bulletin boards around campus for upcoming events. NYU’s Program Board often organizes screenings, like the time they packed 300 kids wearing Snuggies for an early showing of Winnie The Pooh. (Best. Day. Ever.)
A Better Movie Experience
Now that you’re done obsessing over ticket prices, it’s time to check-in to the movie on Foursquare. Why? There’s an awesome app you can connect to Foursquare called After Credits which will notify you if there are any special goodies to see following the credits, saving you the trouble of waiting. Plus you’ll get quick access to information about the movie and you can #humblebrag to all of your friends.
And if you have to pee? Yes, there’s an app for that. RunPee tells you the best dull, inconsequential moment worth missing, and gives you a recap after your trip to the loo. It’s a godsend.
For the best movie experience in Manhattan, you must visit the Ziegfeld Theatre on 54th and 6th, a famous movie palace with rich history and 1,131 seats. For more great theatres, check out lists from Time Out and yours truly.
And finally, learn to be an A/V snob. If you pay $10 or more for a movie, remember that you deserve the best film experience on the planet. All the speakers should sound crisp and present, the projection properly cropped and synced, with comfortable air and seats. Projecting movies is an art, and if any element of the experience is tainted, it is your bounden duty to notify management and get a refund or voucher. Which means more movies, more apps, more running to pee, hooray!