Need advice on movie theater startup costs

posted by drgroovymovie on April 14, 2006 at 7:00 am

One screen theatre, converted back from plays to movies.

Will need :
1 digital projector
1 new screen
1 new sound system
Cost of film rentals

Theatre and seats were remodeled recently they are in good shape. HVAC and building are in good shape.

Looking for an idea of a basic startup cost to get the theatre up and rolling again. It’s a small town of 5,000.

Any helpful hints would be great, thanks.

Comments (32)

PeterApruzzese on April 14, 2006 at 7:35 am


If you’re planning on running new or old Hollywood films, you will need a 35mm projector instead of a digital projector. Very few films are avaialble digitally at this time whereas every studio release is on 35mm film. It’s the standard.

Costs vary, your best best is quality used equipment, figure 10-20,000 minimum for a 35mm system.

Film cost vary from 90% to 35% of your gross, contact a film booker in your area for more information.

You might want to read all of the forums on to give you an idea of what else you will require.

Good luck!

William on April 14, 2006 at 8:59 am

If your going for a digital projector. How large is the theatre and from booth to screen what is the distance. Because to get a really good picture, you’re looking at $40,000 and up. Bilb life may vary but they tend to only last 1500 hours and cost over $2000.

kevin51 on April 14, 2006 at 9:32 am

Check out Cinema sources 1 800 231 8849 ask for Brian he has done many installs and conversions he could give you pretty close to exact costs if you have all the specs, he also could help you get used equipment and help you on getting finances good luck.

kevin51 on April 14, 2006 at 9:32 am

Check out Cinema sources 1 800 231 8849 ask for Brian he has done many installs and conversions he could give you pretty close to exact costs if you have all the specs, he also could help you get used equipment and help you on getting finances good luck.

kevin51 on April 14, 2006 at 9:43 am

call mini theatres 631 758 3456 they are movie brokers they can help you getting set up with all the movie companies for film ask for jeff.

KenLayton on April 14, 2006 at 12:35 pm

Forget the video projector——it’ll cost more than the town budget and you won’t have anything to show on it. Get a good used 35mm system from just about any theater equipment dealer such as American Cinema Equipment ( Ask for a package deal on used equipment.

Lumen on April 14, 2006 at 8:55 pm

Digital progectors are dropping in price rapidly. 5000 lumens XGA starts at about $5000. If the admission & atmoshere are right, people may not mind the difference. With digital, there is a wealth of features available, Copywrite stipulations agreed. LCD projectors have richer color saturation than DLP(unless its a 3 chip unit) and rule the higher brightness realm. A Christie Roadrunner puts out 10 to 12000 lumens W/upgradability but will set you back 50k. Personally, Id pursue digital. Best regards, Lumen

CTCrouch on April 15, 2006 at 12:26 am

Another thing to remember in all this is that you will need to hire someone to properly install the equipment (ie. a booth tech). Additionally, all projection equipment requires regular maintenance/repairs and used equipment often entails further expenses/effort to maintain. Basically, in addition to purchasing the equipment and product, there are many other expenses to consider.

raydeas on April 15, 2006 at 12:53 pm

two days ago you were looking for a place. I take it you found something. Give us some details about what you’ve got and maybe you’ll get some more ideas. Size, decor, etc. Friends and I opened and old Theater 30 years ago with some elbow grease and paint. I understand you need equipment, too, but where is it written you gotta spend $1/4M?

Lumen on April 15, 2006 at 6:51 pm

Digital projectors generally need little maintainence & are pretty dependable, so you wouldnt have to hire someone, I still like to thread up a film projector though, its the sound & flicker that are good. But case in point, If I had the choice between a stock Lamborghini Countach or one modified with a chevy V8 I’d choose the V8 because it would get the job done with less headaches.

brucelisa1 on April 18, 2006 at 6:21 am

I feel I’m in a similar position. I have an idea to convert an approximate 33,000+ sq' building into a movie theatre. But, I don’t know the first thing about costs involved to make my idea a reality. What kinds of costs will I get into for soundproofing, walls, screens, projectors, concessions, seating, etc. How many screens can I get in a building this size? Do I want to show first run movies or show them after they have been on the market for months and then show them at discount prices? What does it cost to secure movies to show in my theatre. Any insight/help would be greatly appreciated.

raydeas on April 18, 2006 at 9:09 am

Bruce: In the spirit of CT, can’t you find an old theater to restore? Already have the building? Stadium seating is “in”—Higher, shorter auditoriums—How high is your ceiling? Depending on your building’s shape, you may fit six and a nice lobby. And they’re already talking about releasing dvds simultaneously with the theatrical release—you might get a slightly better deal on film rental after two WEEKS of release! Talk to any film distributor in the nearest big city (Where are you?). They will give you an overhead allowance, then take 50-90% of your gross box-office. Many immigrants in the neighborhood? How about one or two of the screens in Spanish? Much of all needed equipment is available used— back to the big ciy—for soda, pop corn machines, counters, etc. This site may be all you need! good luck

mikea on April 18, 2006 at 12:20 pm

We have a screen that you could buy. It is approximately 45'. The cost of it is $1500. If interested please contace Mike.

Thanks and as always have a great day!

Mike A.

brucelisa1 on April 19, 2006 at 3:07 am

Thanks for the information. I will follow up with the address you provided. FYI, I am located just outside Springfield, MO. The nearest big cities are St. Louis, Kansas City & Tulsa, each about 3 hrs away. The height of the ceilings I am estimating at 20'-25'. The building’s shape is basically square. As far as miniorities, there is a large minority population southwest of Springfield about 45 min to 1 hr away. The building is available for lease at about $8500/month NNN. Can I make this work paying that kind of rent?

KenLayton on April 19, 2006 at 5:34 am

33,000 square feet should make a nice 6 plex theater. Be sure to join the forums at and read their FAQ page too.

Ken Layton
Olympia, Wash.

JAMAAL21 on April 19, 2006 at 3:46 pm

Hi I thinking about opening the old theater in my town the bulding
is already made for this and I think the seats are still in it
I just need some ideas on getting started and how much a Projector
and screen will cost and do I buy the movies.

posted by jay

KenLayton on April 19, 2006 at 6:11 pm

Contact American Cinema Equipment ( and ask for a price quote on a used projection equipment package deal. Be sure to visit the forums at to learn about how to operate a movie theater and contact film booking agents.

mikea on April 20, 2006 at 3:46 am


We have a screen for sale. It is approximately 45' for a price of $1500. We also have projector equipment for a price of $3500. If interested, please contact Mike!
Thanks and as always have a great day!

Mike A.

MaxTheJerk on March 17, 2009 at 7:17 am

I am A student at Barruch. I am currently building a hypothetical business plan with a class group for a 21+ movie theater showing both old and new movies. This concept was my own and I plan to use the business plan in the future but am using the class to get many of the logistics and necessary preparations out of the way. a few questions….
1) is 40'x 50' an acceptable size for a single auditorium ? just one of the theater’s I mean, I plan on having three to four.
2) what would the minimum height be in a space?
3) are there any specific ways I could organize the theater’s (in relation to one another) that would be more effective? for example, one projector room for three theater’s, caddy cornered almost, or could I put them back to back to save on sound proofing?
4) am I going to run into any licensing conflicts when trying to serve alcohol and display movies inside of the establishment? (aside from underage drinkers)

Stosh2009 on June 28, 2009 at 11:30 am

I’m working on a business plan for a drive-in theater and need to know what kind of transmitter system I would need to inable a vehicle to cannel into the screen. Can anyone help with some info?

shadowtheater on July 21, 2009 at 5:28 pm

i have a spare 45' screen and 4 spare 35mm projectors and platters and 6 spare amps, 2 spare DTS DTS 6D, a Spare Cinema Processor Dolby CP500. also 2 spare build up tables compatible with the 4 projector towers. lemme know if you were interested.

this is all located in central florida

New2theBiz on April 11, 2010 at 2:17 pm

My local theater has conjured up a few thousand dollars to purchase a better sound system. They have been experiencing low volume and a very annoying hum. I don’t know much about theater systems, I’m into the radio business. They asked for any advice or help I could give them and I’m here to try and find it. After reading some publications about theater audio, I’m not even certain where to look for the problem, or buy a new solution. Any help would be grateful.

Yoedy on November 14, 2010 at 8:09 pm

Four screen theatre

Will need :
4 digital projector
4 new screen
4 new sound system

Looking for an idea of a basic startup cost to get the theatre up and running. I Need the cost for State of the art things. a ruff Estiment will do for my Business Plan.

Any helpful hints would be great, thanks.

arturomo007 on July 12, 2011 at 6:35 pm

hello, i’m from Mexico and i want to run an autocinema, but i have no experience, i don’t know what kind of equipment do i need, or where can i buy it, i really want to save money, couldo you help me? any contact with an expert in this area? have an excelent day!

blackpatti on October 1, 2011 at 8:29 am

Love this site. A lot of time since that first 2006 post. Are most movies now available in digital? How is it distributed if you have a digital system? DVD? Also, do the movie distributors charge way way less to send digital rather than those huge 35mm canisters? I have about a 400 seat theater, not sure of length but does 200' sound normal? Who has very ballpark estimate of a digital projector cost with pretty good quality? Thanks.

blackpatti on October 1, 2011 at 8:46 am

Also, I’m obviously new at this business. Old projector’s go through bulbs, how about the new digital projectors? Lastly, what is the approximate cost to have bottom part and back of the chairs reupholstered? I have old cast iron seats, the back is metal, only front part has the material and thin padded back. About 400 – 500 seats. Thanks.

blackpatti on October 1, 2011 at 8:47 am

While I’m at it, are there rules regarding access to balcony for disabled individuals? Currently, the balcony is pretty much not accessible to disabled, would I need to close that section?

Ritzjim on November 20, 2011 at 6:58 pm

We are a 1912 theater that’s been in continuous operation. We’re a small community theater group in rural Indiana. Currently 35mm showing movies 4 nights a week with matinees on Sunday and Saturday afternoons. About 17,000 in the county…2500 in town. No way we can convert to digital and pay our bills. Any thoughts when 35mm will go away?

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BRMlongue on April 17, 2018 at 12:16 pm

I’m a new small one screen movie theater and I was wondering if you guys could recommend any film brokers to use? I keep typing into google film brokers or independent movie brokers but I only find one company. What’s the best way to get movies? We tried imdb pro and tried reaching out to distributors on our own but no luck yet.

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