Discount theater

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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.

The Cinema 6 Theatre in State College, PA shows second-run movies for $1.

At the time, VHS was just rising as an affordable home video technology. 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.


In cities like Portland, Oregon and Arlington, Virginia, older, discount theaters show second-run movies in an adult setting, often featuring food and alcohol sales in refurbished moviehouses.

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