While you might have expected the rise of online distribution (and the lessened need for film fans to ever leave the house) to encourage cinemas to lower their prices in a bid to snare more punters, in many places the opposite seems to have happened, with multiplex prices continuing to increase around the country.
I took a trawl online to look at all the major chains and some smaller indies, with the aim of seeing where the cheapest tickets reside and uncovering the best ways to save dosh without sacrificing the magic of the cinema-going experience.
As a bit of a disclaimer: I’m very aware that ticket prices at major cinema chains vary a lot between regions. There is as much as a £5 difference for the exact same film at the exact same chain at the exact same time in the exact same format, in some cases, depending on where you live. I’ve tried to represent this by displaying a ‘South of London’ and a ‘North of London’ price for the chains, where possible (accepting that London tends to be the most expensive). This isn’t me trying to stoke up a North V South divide in the DoG community, but I thought the price difference was worthy of note.
And, since many cinemas have different prices for different times of day, I’ve opted for the more expensive evening showings (often called ‘peak’ screenings) because they’ll be relevant to a greater number.
Right, okay then, here are the results of my research…
The big chains
Looking at the numbers, the cheapest major cinema chain for film fans north of London is Odeon. South of London it’s Empire who have the best bargains. Inside London, Empire are the best for 2D but Cineworld offer the cheapest 3D prices. And there’s also an argument to be made that Cineworld’s Unlimited Card trumps the value of all other cinemas across the board, if you’re the kind of person who sees multiple movies a month.
It’s worth noting, as well, that the price of a 3D uplift seems to vary wildly at different major chains, and even at different branches within those chains. A quid and a bit seems reasonable, while anything near three pounds difference sounds a lot like being mugged off. Some of the regional price differences come as a bit of a shock, too.
Here’s our full breakdown of major chain prices…
North of London: £9.60 for 2D / £11.80 for 3D / £15.60 for IMAX 3D at Birmingham Broad Street
South of London £11.70 for 2D / £13.90 for 3D / £17.70 for IMAX 3D at Chichester
Inside London: £13.60 for 2D / £15.80 for 3D / No IMAX available at Fulham Road
It’d be remiss not mention the Cineworld Unlimited card, which, for a monthly rate of £17.40 (or £19.90 if you want the central London cinemas as well), will grant you access to any 2D movie without extra charge, as long as you sign up to the scheme for a full year. And after you’ve been a member for a year, they’ll throw in the 3D ones as well. You also get invited to early screenings of films fairly regularly.
North of London: £6.75 for 2D / £8.25 for 3D at Sutton Coldfield
South of London: £8.95 for 2D / £10.45 for 3D at Poole
Inside London: £12.95 for 2D / £18.50 for ‘Impact’ 3D / £22.45 for IMAX 3D at Empire Leicester Square (although this Empire site became a Cineworld this week, it’s worth noting)
North of London: £13 for 2D / £15.20 for 3D at Leeds
South of London: £14 for 2D / No 3D available at Winchester
Inside London: £17 for 2D / No 3D available at Canary Wharf
North of London: £6 for 2D / £8 for 3D / No IMAX available at Birmingham
South of London: £11.95 for 2D / £13.95 for 3D / £15.95 for IMAX 3D at Southampton
Inside London: £15 for 2D / £18 for 3D at Odeon Leicester Square / £22 for IMAX 3D at the BFI IMAX
It’s worth mentioning that the Odeon Leicester Square does offer cheaper prices in its smaller ‘studio’ screens and outside of peak evening times. Odeon has also launched its own Cineworld Unlimited-esque loyalty scheme, Limitless. If you’re willing to pay a set fee of £17.99 a month (or £19.99 including Central London cinemas), you can walk into any 2D screening without paying extra.
North of London: £10.50 for 2D / No 3D available at City Screen York
South of London: £10.50 for 2D / £11.80 for 3D at Brighton Dukes At Komedia
Inside London: £16 for 2D / £17.30 for 3D at Picturehouse Central
Picturehouse offers memberships that drive these prices down and occasionally grant free tickets to those who sign up. Also, at Picturehouse Central, Cineworld Unlimited members can get £5 tickets. Across the Picturehouse chain, there are also regular free ‘Slacker’s Club’ screenings for students. It’s nice to note that Cineworld’s non-London prices seem rather constant.
North of London: £9.79 for 2D / £11.99 for 3D at Leicester
South of London: £10.99 for 2D / £13.29 for 3D at Eastleigh
Inside London: £14.79 for 2D / £17.49 for 3D at Leicester Square
If you’re a Londoner, you won’t be particularly close to any of these smaller chains. Except for Curzon, that is, who aren’t the cheapest option in our capital anyway. Or Showcase, who have a branch in Barking (which is sort of in London, right?).
If you’re lucky enough to live near a Picturedrome cinema, though (they have branches in Bognor Regis, Blackwood, Clacton-on-Sea, Westgate-on-Sea and Dorchester), you could do a lot worse than popping along. Their £2.50 tickets make them the cheapest small chain, and one of the least wallet-bothering things on this entire list. I’ve no idea how they’re making money off of that, but bravo to them.
If you’re a southerner who lives near any of these smaller chains, you could well find a cheaper alternative to a major chain by popping along. If you’re from somewhere north of London, though, only Picturedrome can beat Odeon’s £6 2D tickets. Our full price comparison for smaller chains is here…
North of London: £9.50 for 2D at Knutsford
South of London: £12.50 for 2D / £12.50 for 3D at Canterbury
Inside London: £15 for 2D / peak time 3D data not available at Victoria
South of London: £7.50 for 2D / £9 for 3D at Thurso
No central London or north of London branches
North of London: £7.70 for 2D at Widnes / No 3D available
South of London: £6 for 2D at Plymouth / No 3D available
No central London branches
North of London: £2.50 / No 3D available at Westgate-on-Sea
South of London: £2.50 / No 3D available at Dorchester
No central London branches
North of London: £9.40 for 2D / £11.40 for 3D at Coventry
Inside London: £9.75 for 2D / £11.75 at Barking
No south of London branches
North of London: £7.00 for 2D (or £4.99 on Mondays) at Norwich
No London or south of London branches
There are some bargains in this next section which will make you scoff at the big chains’ idea of a fair price. The MovieStarr cinema in Canvey Island is another place offering £2.50 tickets (for most of the week), for example.
If there’s a takeaway from this part of the article, it’s that the idea of indie cinemas being expensive places to visit is complete tosh. You could save a pretty penny – particularly in London, where the Peckham Multiplex and the Stepney Green Genesis are both cheaper than the big chains’ captial city prices – if you live near enough to one of these standalone cinemas to give them your patronage…
£9.00 for 2D (or £5.50 with a free ‘Good Times Guide’ card) / £11 for 3D (or £7.50 with the card)
£7.40 for 2D (or £5 Monday-Thursday, or before 5pm on Friday) / £9.40 for 3D (or £7 within the same offer window)
Cottage Road Cinema, Leeds
£7 for 2D / No 3D prices available
Electric Cinema, Birmingham
£8.70 for 2D (or £5.90 if you’re a member) / No 3D prices available
Genesis Cinema, Stepney Green, London
£4.50 (Monday and Wednesday), £8 (Tuesday and Thursday) or £9.50 (Friday and weekend) for 2D / £2 added to the daily price for 3D showings
Jam Jar Cinema, Tyneside
Prices between £4 and £7 for 2D (or, sometimes, £0 if you bring a jam jar) / No 3D prices available
Majestic Cinema, King’s Lynn
£4 for 2D / £4 for 3D (plus another pound if you don’t have your own 3D glasses already)
MovieStarr, Canvey Island
£2.50 (Monday to Thursday) or £3.50 (Friday to Saturday) for 2D / No 3D prices available
Peckham Multiplex, London
£4.99 for 2D / £5.99 for 3D (plus another pound if you don’t have your own 3D glasses already)
Regal Theatre, Stowmarket
£5.95 (includes a hot drink and a biscuit) for 2D / £6.95 for 3D
The Regal also offers a Cineworld Unlimited-type membership. You can see as many films as you want for £90 a year.
Ritz Cinema, Lincoln
£5 for 2D, most of the time (also, that often includes a drink and popcorn) / No 3D prices available
Showroom Workstation, Sheffield
£8.50 for 2D / No 3D prices available
The Light, Wisbech
£6.84 for 2D / £6.84 for 3D
The Light also offers an ‘Infinity’ card, like the Odeon and Cineworld ones, which allows you to see as many films as you like for £16.95 a month.
The Luxe, Wisbech
£3.50 for 2D / No 3D prices available
The Prince Charles Cinema, London
£11.50 for 2D (although it’s worth mentioning here that daytime screenings are much cheaper and membership reduces the price, too) / No 3D prices available.
£9.75 for 2D / No 3D prices available
£6.50 or £9 for 2D, depending on the film / No 3D prices available
Overall, then? The lesson to learn from this is that it’s worth shopping around when you’re next plotting a trip to the movies. Although one breed of massive multiplex may be just down the road, there could be an independent cinema or cheaper chain lurking slightly further afield with far better prices. A little cine-commute could save you big dosh.
Or, if there truly is no indie picture palace or cheaper chain option near you, signing up to an Odeon Limitless/Cineworld Unlimited-type membership deal could save you cash in the long run, if you’re planning to visit the cinema a few times each month. But yes, it’s very much worth having a quick Google search and working out where you nearest indie standalone or cheaper chain cinema is. It’s a small amount of effort for potentially a lot of saved cash.
Also, a big finding from this article (and possibly one that will spin off into its own piece) is the fact that cinema chains seem to be charging people south of London a bit more than people north of London, for the most part. And, as is less surprising, cinema tickets at major chains within London are generally hiked up a fair bit compared to other regions.
And to answer the question at the top of this article, Britain’s cheapest tickets can be found at the Picturedrome chain and Canvey Island’s standalone MovieStarr cinema. Both offer £2.50 or £3.50 tickets, depending on certain criteria (not all Picturedrome branches go quite that cheap, while it’s only on certain days you can get the cheapest price at Moviestarr). And on certain special occasions, Tyneside’s Jam Jar Cinema lets you use a jam jar as payment. It’s hard to beat that.
In terms of major chains, Empire is the cheapest for 2D both in London and south of it. Odeon is cheapest for 2D and 3D screenings north of London, based on the snapshots of information that we’ve seen here. Empire are the cheapest major chain for 3D showings south of London, although Cineworld nabs that title within the capital itself.
And, finally, some quick thanks
I heard about a lot of the local independents on this list because of comments left on our article about the ownership of British cinemas. Thanks if you were one of those people that banged the drum for your local picture palace underneath that article.
And thanks – if you happen to be reading this – to Mark Kermode, Simon Mayo and anyone who wrote into the May 13th 2016 edition of their Wittertainment radio show to disclose their local cinema prices. I’ve taken into account your insights and interpreted some of them here.
If I’ve missed out your local, or a place with a particularly noteworthy price, do let me know in the comments section below. I’ll try and keep this article updated…