Discount theaters, also known as dollar theatres, dollar movies, second-run theatres, and sub-run theatres, are movie theaters that show motion pictures for low prices — often for as little as a dollar — after the films leave first-run theatres. These low-cost movie houses had their heyday in the 1980s as Hollywood studios were churning out motion pictures quickly, and the number of American screens had not yet expanded to catch up with the supply. These theatres, often the older theaters in older parts of town, typically had just one or two screens while newer multiplexes were built in the suburbs for first-run films.
At the time, VHS was just rising as an affordable home video technology, and optical disc technologies (DVD, Blu-ray, etc.) were yet to be perfected for such applications. Consequently, budget-conscious film-goers might wait for a film to hit the local dollar house instead of paying more money to see the film first-run.
However, there were problems in the industry. In the view of many film studios, these theatres were treating films as loss-leaders by charging little for admission in an effort to score profits on high-markup concession items.
As the 21st century dawned, a pair of factors conspired to drive many discount theatres out of business: 1) an oversupply of American movie screens caused by ambitious overbuilding allowed films to stay longer in the first-run theatres, and 2) the delay between theatrical release and VHS or DVD release continued to shrink. This latter factor convinced many moviegoers that it was simply not worth the money, hassle, and possible encounters with noisy fellow patrons and sticky floors, meaning dollar theatres could be in the twilight of their existence.
Despite these setbacks, however, dollar theatres do prove popular with some demographics. Often, lower-income families will see a movie in a dollar theatre as their prices are often easier to afford. In addition, teenagers, youth-groups, retired people, and large families with many children will also go see movies in dollar theatres, where they can be entertained at an inexpensive price. Discount theatres are also a way for busy people who missed seeing a movie at the first theatre release to get a chance to watch it on the big screen.
In cities like Portland, Oregon, older, discount theaters show second-run movies in an adult setting, often featuring food and alcohol sales in refurbished moviehouses.