Watching Movies on a Budget

As awards season sweeps in every year, I immediately start scheming how I can see as many movies as possible for as little money as possible. Fortunately, like the magicians of yesteryear, I have a few tricks up my baggy sleeve, which I will now reveal.

1. Netflix. Besides offering one of the best DVD-by-mail services around, Netflix now also streams movies and TV shows on demand right to your computer—an unlimited number for $7.99 a month. But as great as this may sound, you'll quickly discover that the company has far fewer titles available for streaming than it does for DVD rentals. Still, the deal is sweetened considerably if you have a Wii, a PlayStation 3, an Xbox 360, or one of several Blu-ray players, all of which allow you to stream directly to your TV, avoiding the annoyance of watching a big-screen movie on a little computer monitor. For DVD rentals, Netflix's basic plan ($9.99 per month for unlimited DVDs rented one at a time) also gets you the streaming service at no extra charge.

2. Apple TV or Roku. If you don't have one of the aforementioned devices, you still have excellent options via the Apple TV or Roku boxes (both are $99). Like the other devices, these small boxes let you stream content directly to your TV. Apple offers thousands of movies and TV shows via the iTunes Store, as well as access to Netflix (and some other neat options). Roku does essentially the same thing but points you toward, among other options, the download service of, whose catalogue easily rivals iTunes'. Either way, movie rentals are a reasonable $3.99 each; some older titles are even cheaper. Once you get past the initial cost of the box, spending $3.99 to watch a film is hard to beat. Compared with two full-price movie tickets, plus drinks, popcorn, travel, and parking, either device sells itself without my having to be a shill for it.

3. If you're a member of the Screen Actors Guild, you can join the SAG Film Society. For $100 ($115 for new members), you can go to screenings of about 20 new movies a year, plus any number of bonus films. This fee admits you and a guest, making it a very good deal indeed. There is a downside, however: The Los Angeles branch tends to fill up fairly quickly, so there's definitely no guarantee that you'll be able to get into the screenings. New York's membership roll tends not to fill up the same way—lucky for New Yorkers.

4. If you're a member of a labor union, the AFTRA-SAG Federal Credit Union, or the Actors Federal Credit Union, you have easy access to discounted movie tickets. Register with Union Plus ( and you can buy tickets for AMC, Pacific, Landmark, and many other theater chains at 21 to 46 percent off the regular price. For most of the theaters, you have to buy a block of at least four tickets in advance (they mail the vouchers to you). Tickets to my local AMC ended up costing $8 each.

For zero cost, and as a last resort, you might try updating your status on Facebook with "Anybody receiving movie screeners this season?" or "Will wash dishes for movies!" You may not see any movies this way, but you'll get some interesting responses.