The Cities and States with the Cheapest Cinema Tickets

To see a movie in the cinema is to experience the seventh art as it was intended — whether it’s a black and white biopic, a pink plastic comedy about a living toy or an obscure arthouse flick traveling the nation’s theaters one screen at a time.

But a trip to the cinema is an investment of time and energy. And everyone got pretty good at setting up a comfortable viewing experience at home during the pandemic. This has made some reluctant to return to the theaters.

The number of tickets sold in 2022 when restrictions were lifted was half the average sold across the previous 20 years. Those cinemas that survived 2020 responded by innovating, offering better audio-visuals, reclining seats (who watches movies sitting upright these days?) and dynamic pricing. It follows that in 2023, ticket sales were back up to 77% of that 20-year average.

And as those black and white and pink box office record-breakers proved, American audiences still hunger for communal, big-screen cinema. Whether it’s worth the investment depends on the ticket price and how the cost compares to your income. So, following our guide to the price of movie-going around the world, we surveyed ticket prices across America to find which cities and states have the cheapest and most expensive tickets and the best deal compared to local wages.

About This Study

Researchers at NetCredit found the average price of an adult ticket for the films Napoleon and Wish on a Saturday night at the ten largest cinemas (by number of screens) in every state and the 100 biggest U.S. cities. We ranked these cities and states by average price and then compared these prices to the average local wage to further rank each location by affordability.

Key Findings

  • The state with the cheapest cinema tickets is Wyoming ($9.10).
  • The big city with the cheapest cinema tickets is Sterling Heights, Michigan ($8.92).
  • The state with the most affordable tickets is Wyoming, where it takes 24.99 minutes of work at the average wage to afford the average ticket.
  • The city with the least affordable tickets is Memphis, Tennessee, where it takes 47.35 minutes of work at the average wage to afford the average ticket.

The Price of a Cinema Ticket by State

Broadly, cinema ticket prices are cheaper in the north than the south and more expensive on the coast than inland. The states of New York and Hawaii are the most expensive of all, on average. In New York, the average price is $15.83 — though this is inflated by prices in New York City, the only city in the eponymous state to make the most expensive ten cities (see below), where the average price is $18.00. Hawaii’s prices are likewise inflated by Honolulu’s average ($17.24).

U.S. map showing the average price of a movie ticket in every state

Three of the four cheapest states are clustered in or adjacent to the Mountain States region. Cinema-goers in Montana, South Dakota and Wyoming each pay less than $11 on average for their cinema tickets, as do those in Michigan.

Wyoming is the cheapest of all by 89¢, with an average price of $9.10. The cost of living in Wyoming is toward the low end, and theaters in the city participate in promotions to reignite interest in theater-going. “You know, movies can be expensive, and we understand that so maybe that three-dollar ticket will bring a few extras in,” says Melissa Cogan, manager of the Foothills Theatres in Gillette.

The Top 10 Most and Least Expensive Cities For Cinema Tickets

New York City and San Francisco are out in front as America’s most expensive cities to go to the cinema. Three Californian cities are in the top ten, with San Francisco joined by Irvine and Los Angeles.

Perhaps surprisingly, Atlanta, Georgia, is the fourth most expensive spot. Atlanta has a thriving film culture thanks to its local industry, but reopening historic theaters after the pandemic has come with its economic challenges. “People realize, oh yeah — these places don’t just exist regardless of me,” says Christopher Escobar, executive director of the Atlanta Film Society. “They can only continue to exist because I go to them and support them.”

U.S. map showing the most and least expensive U.S. cities for a movie ticket

We found three cities where the average Saturday night cinema ticket comes in under ten bucks: Sterling Heights, Michigan ($8.92); Norfolk, Virginia ($8.96); and Madison, Alabama $9.00). Michigan was one of the last states in which AMC theaters reopened following the pandemic; Sterling Heights is one of 14 AMC locations in the state. Sterling Heights is also home to a splendid art deco MJR Marketplace Cinema, part of a local chain of theaters that offers low prices and loyalty discounts.

The Affordability of Cinema Tickets Across America

Price is one thing, but whether you commit to a Saturday night at the theater depends on what’s in your pocket. We compared the average ticket prices above to the average local wage according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics to find where cinema tickets are the most and least affordable. To illustrate the level of affordability, we scored each city and state by the number of minutes you would need to work at the average local rate to afford the average local ticket. So, a higher number of minutes means tickets are less affordable.

Infographic showing the most and least affordable states for movie tickets

Cinema tickets are the least affordable of all in Tennessee, where it takes 45.29 minutes of average work to afford the average ticket — and more particularly in Memphis, the least affordable city (see below), where it takes 47.35 minutes. In neighboring Bartlett, a once-affordable Malco cinema closed down following the pandemic, which will be replaced by a new pickleball facility. The viability of the Bartlett Malco had been in question since lockdown.

The most affordable city (below) for cinema tickets happens to be the same as the cheapest: Sterling Heights, Michigan, where it takes 23.19 minutes of work to afford the average ticket. San José, California, is only a few seconds behind on 23.41 minutes.

Infographic showing the most and least affordable cities for movie tickets

San José has a number of beloved old theaters that are no longer in use, but it seems today’s cinema owners are canny in maximizing the profitability of those who attend their movies. The “typical [arts and culture] attendee spends $43.88 per person per event in San José, not including the cost of admission,” reports the City of San José’s Office of Economic Development and Cultural Affairs (OEDCA).

How to Save Money on Movie Tickets

Ticket prices have risen at a faster rate than the Consumer Price Index since 2019, and while the economy is faring better than expected right now, the wealth gap continues to rise.

But with a bit of planning, it is still possible to have a great, affordable night out at the pictures. Here are three ways you can save money when you buy your tickets.

1. Pledge your loyalty

Many theaters and chains offer loyalty programs for frequent customers. Take a few moments to sign up, and you can collect points each time you pay and put them towards buying tickets or snacks in the future.

2. Enquire about discounts you may have already earned

Senior and military discounts are available for some screenings, while AAA members are among those who can benefit from promotional savings. If you pay with a credit card, you may be eligible for cashback or other rewards.

3. Go to a quiet screening

Off-peak days and matinee hours at the weekends can be far cheaper than standard ticket prices. As a bonus, going to the cinema in the daytime can also be more fun — smaller crowds, plenty of time to talk about the movie afterward and that magical feeling of getting lost in a movie while everyone else is at work.

The magic of a cinema screening will never be matched by even the largest of home cinema set-ups. But streaming releases have become a norm in this extended moment of turmoil for the pandemic- and strike-hit movie industry. “There have actually never been more original movies produced in a year than there are right now,” says Matthew Belloni, host of The Town podcast. “It’s just that the majority of them are going to streaming.”

Whether a trip to the cinema is a rare treat or a regular habit, going to see a movie at the theater is both a way to see it as the director imagined it — and to ensure your local picture house is still there a little way down the line.


To determine the states and cities with the cheapest movie tickets, we collected data on ticket prices for theaters across the country. States and cities were ranked based on the average price of an adult ticket for the films Napoleon and Wish on a Saturday night in the ten largest cinemas by number of screens. Cinemas with fewer than five screens were not considered, and only the 100 largest cities by population were included. States and cities were also ranked based on affordability, or the average cost of a movie ticket as a fraction of the median hourly wage. Data on median hourly wage for states and metropolitan statistical areas are from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The data is correct as of January 2024.

Additional Sources

National Association of Theatre Owners. (2023). Annual Average U.S. Ticket Price.
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. (2023). Consumer Price Index (CPI) Databases.
Dellatto, M. (2022). Covid Isn’t Why Americans Aren’t Going To The Movies, Study Suggests.
National Association of Theatre Owners. (2021). Economic Contributions of the U.S. Movie Theater Industry.
National Association of Theatre Owners. (2023). Annual Average U.S. Ticket Price.
The Numbers. (2023). North America (US and Canada) Domestic Movie Chart for 2017.


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