How to start a discount movie theater?

posted by ajgalbraith98 on May 26, 2006 at 9:47 am

I want to build and start a “dollar theater” or discount theater in my home town of about 40,000 people. I would appreciated any advice anyone has. Do you think a discount theater has the potential to make a profit?


Comments (31)

carolgrau on May 26, 2006 at 11:04 am

In todays market $5.00 is a great price, plus sell your own food.

carolgrau on May 26, 2006 at 11:05 am

In todays market $5.00 is a great price, plus sell your own food.

Jim Vecchio
Jim Vecchio on May 26, 2006 at 11:15 am

I’d probably make a loussssy businessman, but I’d tell you not to compromise your values for the sake of making a buck. I’d do all I could to secure decent, quality movies, not just the ones Hollywood is shoving at us all-If possible, and there is not already such a venue in your area, an Art House or classic film fare might be jsut the different sort of thing that would strike those in your area to attend. It depends a lot on the demographics, a word I hate, but I do know when I attended college in New Haven 30 years ago, such fare sold a lot better than it does today. Discover the need, and present it well, with the inviting flourishings of the filmhouses that are so tragically lost today in this world of glorified shoeboxes. If you do go through with your plans, I hope you’ll share the name and location of your theater. Good luck and God Bless!

ajgalbraith98 on May 26, 2006 at 11:31 am

How much freedom do you have when you own your own movie theater? Can you play any movie you want, old or new? Can you see any food you want? Or are you tied down to only doing certain things?

PeterApruzzese on May 26, 2006 at 5:47 pm

Your best bet to getting answers is to read the forums and ask questions over at , which is dedicated toward small independently operated theatres.

No, you can’t play any movie you want. All titles are subject to 35mm print availability and terms. Every area is different. You will need a film booker in your area to help you.

Food service is subject to local laws/restrictions, but most anything would go. Be aware that traditional candy, soda, and popcorn are the most profitable. Boutique fare such as specialty coffee, cakes, etc., are low-profit items.

dennis906 on May 27, 2006 at 7:00 pm

If this were the 70’s I would say yes. I remember those 49 cent theatres doing booming business showing double features of played out films. But that was before DVD’s, VHS, movie channels, satellite dish, movie downloads, big screen high def TV’s, things that you would be competing against for the movie dollar. Furthermore your equipment, maintenance, utility, insurance and employee payroll costs can be prohibitly expensive and will take a large chunk out of your profits, if you can make any that is.

JoshCaudle on May 29, 2006 at 2:20 am


My company ran a very successful 10 screen discount theatre, which closed last year unfortunately as that city felt the pressing need for a sixth Safeway on the leased site. I’d love to give you the low down on it.

Feel free to email me directly if you want to converse in detail about the ins and outs. Anything I can do to help and take a bite our of the pocket of Regal Cinemas and other monopoly theatre chains!

minnieseesaw on May 29, 2006 at 9:06 am

Some guy leased and reopened the closed down single screen theatre in my hometown (pop 71,000) a few years ago and tried to make a go of it by showing second run movies but failed at that attempt. Then he changed to showing classic movies but again that failed. When the lease expired so did the theatre.

JohnMessick on May 29, 2006 at 3:10 pm

minnieseesaw, thanks for the postive and uplifting comment. Jen, go to the website . You can purchase a business plan on a movie theater and you can also purchase a marketing plan as well. I found that website while doing a google search on business plans for movie theaters. Good Luck with your endevor.

LawMann on May 30, 2006 at 6:26 am

Thank you Minnieseesaw for sharing the realities of operating a “discount” theatre in today’s world. It is a risky business to be sure but with careful planning and good marketing it can be a successful business venture.

cvolosin on May 31, 2006 at 2:19 pm

With the realm of Digital Cinema and the MEGAPLEX holding prints longer (sometimes till one week prior to video release) It is becoming a risky business these days.

I remember going to the Cinemark Carriage Place 12 it was built just as nice as a multi- in the late 80’s w/o stadium, and bowed as the largest $1.00 theater in the united states. Man it was busy, now they have .50 tuesdays and other ways to bring people in.

BEWARE THESE CUSTOMERS ARE BIGGER CHEAPSCATES AND USUALLY SNEAK MORE FOOD IN AND PER-CAPITA’S ($$ Spent per person at the stand) are typically much lower. and a 25% rental on a $1.00 movie doesn’t pay the bills.

David Wodeyla
David Wodeyla on June 1, 2006 at 2:41 pm

In a small town without a megaplex, the idea of a discount theatre is attractive, going out for an inexpensive entertainment should work. Problem is, there wouldn’t be a big profit, and I’d say maybe the operator would barely break even or lose money.
I think the days of successful discount theatres is over, because of the shorter film runs, and closer window before DVD release. But people still like to go out. If you have the location, an existing theatre already running, go for it.

cvolosin on June 1, 2006 at 4:09 pm

definatly! it is a hobby, and a individuals dream to own a theater, you will not be raking in the BIG bucks.. Heart and soul go into it and the love. The closing of all the theaters of the larger companies not meeting the profit expectations really opened up possibilities for the small chain owner.

unfortunatly the condition of these leases dumped be the corporate chains are in questionable shape. The Carmike Hillsboro 8 is taking a wrecking ball to make way for a car lot.


itsblinkey66 on June 9, 2006 at 8:47 pm

HELP! I have an idea that may revelutionize the movie businessand save the “little” local theaters that entertained us for decades. I need help on the logistics of obtaining first run movies and operating an actual theter. I will require the signing of a confidentiality agreement but I am willing to share the wealth on the back end with the right team. Anyone interested can contact me at 407-590-0443 or , thanks, Joe.

itsblinkey66 on June 9, 2006 at 8:50 pm

HELP! I have an idea that may revolutionize the movie business and save the “little” local theaters that entertained us for decades. I need help on the logistics of obtaining first run movies and operating an actual theater. I will require the signing of a confidentiality agreement but I am willing to share the wealth on the back end with the right team. Anyone interested can contact me at 407-590-0443 or , thanks, Joe.

MandM6 on July 17, 2006 at 6:00 pm

Theres not a whole lot of profit but brining a $1.oo thrater is a families dream come true. Not a lot of entertainment to do with a big family, because it just to costly. You don’t see mom dad and kids anymore. Just the kids off on there own.
To bring more money in offer summer movie camp. Teach high school students interested in theatre business how the business operates. Charge $150 for 1 week and appoint mangement positions as operational, choosing movies(how to), and company moral.

griff2197 on September 29, 2006 at 7:24 pm

Need an itemized list of what I will need and how much it will cost to get a second run theater up and running, and an estimate of monthly cost. Also a list of who I will need to contact. Two orders of fries and a milkshake would be nice too.

becks on January 26, 2007 at 7:25 pm

My college class is doing a research project on opening up a movie theater in our town. I need to know how to start a private or franchise theater. Any advise or know how would be greatly appreciated. My e-mail is
Thanks Rebecca

gbravo on March 18, 2007 at 6:00 pm

I’m highly interested in opening up a movie local theater in our town. In a small town without a megaplex, the idea of a discount theatre is attractive to me. The problem is I have no clue about the movie business. I need to know how to start a private or franchise theater. Any advise or know how would be greatly appreciated. Furthermore and most importantly the equipment, maintenance, utility, insurance and employee payroll costs. My e-mail is
Thanks Gabriel

JerryDT on July 26, 2007 at 11:07 pm

I’m a university student doing a research on how to start and operate a movie theater (cinema). It is an interesting business idea, but I have no clue whatsoever about the movie industry.
How it is operated, how to order movies, prices, shipment cost, maintenance, other sources of revenue, start-up capital required etc.
Any advise is much appreciated. Please email me directly:
Thanks for your time and hope to get a reply.

cvolosin on July 27, 2007 at 5:50 am

Gabriel, If you are in Ohio or Florida I know of 2 indipendant owners that are expanding their small chains. if you are in a small town no-one (BIG CHAINS) are going to touch the market area if they can go 30 miles up the interstate to the large town and build.

If you are in an area of NO COMPETITON you want to go FIRST RUN. don’t let them drive somewhere else. they won’t wait if they want to see a movie.

The concept of the DOLLAR THEATER started when the large chains started building new stadium locations down the road from existing locations that still had leases left on them. The chains knew they could never get a good price at a location they drove into the ground, so they would pass product down to the dollar theater after 4 to 6 weeks at the nicer theater at a higher price.

unfortunatly the profit in a dollar house is just that <less than a dollar.) With video release dates pushing faster and mega-plexs holding product in 67 seat theaters for another 8 weeks it is hard to make a run of it unless you are in a location where you have a VERY LOW OVERHEAD and operating costs.

going to bed now. Let me know if you would like to talk with either of the people in Fl or Ohio and I will see if they are willing to work with you.

shanemo on August 28, 2007 at 2:36 pm

I am interested in opening a dollar or 3 dollar theater in the town I live in. A new theater was built and the old one is just sitting around collecting dust. I have no idea what is involved or what I would need to do to begin. If anyone could give me some advice or information (ie. info regarding where I would have to get movies from, possible monthly costs, etc…) it would be greatly appreciated.



sketchgrrl on April 18, 2009 at 9:43 pm

I’m moving from a town with a multi-screen dollar theater (well, it’s now $1.50) to an area with none. The area I’m moving to has a larger population and I’m sure people would flock to a dollar theater if there was one here.

I do think that people like to get out and share the experience of watching a movie with others, not always stay home and watch DVDs of older films. I’m wondering what it would take to open a dollar theater in my town.

gpatrick on July 6, 2009 at 6:57 pm

My wife and I are moving to Belize from Texas and are really intreted in opening a cinema down there can anyone tell me how I could go about doing this or who to talk to about it. thanks email

jhod29 on July 18, 2009 at 10:57 am

I am looking into renovating the only movie theatre that existed in Bluefields, Nicaragua ( Polpulation 60,000). There is a need to have this place again as an option for entertainment. I am willing to make it happen. This will not be a multiplex, or modern “stadium complex”, just a classic ( with a mondern touch) theatre offering either first run or independent films. Anyone who has suggestions or willing to share experiences, please email Jose at All suggestions are welcome.


TLSLOEWS on February 26, 2010 at 8:14 pm

Goodluck Bluefields Theatre.

mark mason
mark mason on May 5, 2010 at 5:11 pm

Hi,my name is mark and i find all you are saying here to be true,i live in the uk and its the same here,there is a traditional old independant cinema near me but its now being used as a bingo hall,it would only take quite minor alterations to re-engage the building back into a working cinema,depending on profits would decide 1st or 2nd run.I think when the recession lifts and there is more money around they could still co exist with the multiplexes,especially now there are less buildings available to use as independant cinemas.

ninoclown on July 16, 2010 at 11:34 am

I have always wanted to open a small discount theater, with a food concept tied into it and I think I am in the perfect situation to do so now. I recently moved to Germany to teach English, and I think my city would be a fantastic place for such a venue, especially since the Germans I meet/know are dying for English TV and Movies. There are 2 English theaters in town already, but they only show 1st run movies and are quite expensive.

My primary question is how do you go about securing the rights to show the movies? Do you contact Sony, Warner Bros, Universal, etc directly or what? I have checked the forums and can’t really find a clear answer.

My plan would be to show a lot of older movies, classics from the 80s and 90s as most Germans have never seen or heard of so many of these great films. Also, I figure it would be cheaper to rent/license these movies as opposed to more recent movies.

Thanks for your time, I really appreciate it!

SkuxDelux1on1 on September 13, 2010 at 1:40 am

In a few years from now with alot of planing and marketing, Im looking to start a Cinema in my area (population 100,000) maybe more. There is no theater, and the first ever theater was burnt down a few years back, the owner lost quite a bit and is not willing to start another one again.

I have very little experience in the movie theater industry, but I know alot about marketing and this line of business is very profitable but very risky.

If I were to start a Cinema showing first round movies, what would I need to do in re guards of getting the movies? Do I partner up with the big bois and offer them a small percentage of my business in return for movies?

please email me to with information

Thank you, Chase

jodies on July 3, 2012 at 11:22 pm

I’m highly interested in opening up a local movie theater in my town that have about 50,000 peoples . In need to know how to start a private or franchise theater . Any advise or know how would be greatly appreciated. Furthermore and most importantly where do i get the equipment. please let me know my email is

jodies on July 3, 2012 at 11:32 pm

Please let me know if anybody have a closing movie theater and want to sell the equipment, please let me know I would like to open movie theater in a movie theater in 3 different towns in Haiti, as a distraction for these people who lost their loves one after the quake, if you can tell me where i can buy some used theater equipment please let me know my email is

You must login before making a comment.

New Comment