How Early Should I Arrive at a Movie Theater

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Written By Editorial Staff

Going to a movie theater is fun and exciting. One big question many people have is, “How early should I get to the theater?” Timing is important because theaters today have many cool features.

This guide will help you decide the best time to arrive for your movie. Read on to make your movie time even better!

Factors to Consider

  • Movie Popularity: For those blockbuster hits or critically acclaimed films, especially on opening night or weekends, you might want to get there a bit earlier than usual. We’re talking about a 45-minute to an hour head start. This gives you ample time to secure the best seats, especially if the theater doesn’t have a reservation system.
  • Theater Size and Location: Big multiplexes in bustling city centers tend to get crowded, especially during peak hours or weekends. Arriving early here can save you the hassle of navigating through large crowds. On the flip side, a local suburban cinema or an art-house theater might have a more intimate, relaxed ambiance. Here, you can afford to be a tad more relaxed about your arrival time.
  • Seating Arrangements: Reserved seating can be a blessing, ensuring you don’t have to scramble for a good spot. But if it’s free seating, the early bird certainly gets the worm or, in this case, the best view!
  • Special Features or Events: Some movies come with Q&A sessions with the cast, behind-the-scenes footage, or other special events post-showing. If you’re attending such a session, arriving early can ensure you get a chance to participate or have an optimal experience.
  • Snack and Concession Queues: If you’re someone who loves to munch on popcorn or sip on a soda while enjoying a film, factor in some extra time. Depending on the theater and the time of day, snack queues can be surprisingly long.
  • Pre-movie Atmosphere: Some theaters, especially luxury or boutique ones, offer lounges, bars, or themed areas that can be a part of the movie-going experience. Arriving a bit earlier lets you soak in the ambiance, making your movie night even more memorable.
  • Parking: If you’re driving to the theater, consider the parking situation. Some theaters, especially in busy downtown areas, might have limited parking space. Factor in time to find a spot, and possibly, a short walk to the theater.

The Early Bird Experience

There’s something to be said about the anticipation and excitement that builds up when you arrive early at a movie theater. Here’s a closer look at what makes the early arrival an experience to cherish:

  • First Dibs on Popcorn and Snacks: There’s no denying the allure of freshly popped popcorn. By arriving early, not only do you beat the concession stand queues, but you also get to enjoy that delightful aroma and warmth of just-cooked popcorn. Plus, you’ll have enough time to choose between those tempting candy varieties or even decide on that upsized drink.
  • Trivia Time: Many theaters have a tradition of playing fun movie-related quizzes or fun facts before the main event starts. For film enthusiasts, this is a great opportunity to test their knowledge and maybe even impress their companions with their movie trivia prowess.
  • Socializing: If you’re heading to the movies with friends or family, arriving early gives you that perfect window to chat, catch up, and discuss your movie expectations. Plus, there’s always the chance of bumping into other acquaintances or even making new friends with fellow movie-goers.
  • Exploring the Theater’s Amenities: Modern theaters often offer much more than just a movie. From arcade games to photo booths to themed lounges, there’s often a world waiting to be explored. Arriving early ensures you don’t miss out on these delights.
  • Ideal Seating: We’ve touched upon this before, but it bears repeating. Early birds have the pick of the litter when it comes to seats. Whether you fancy the front, middle, or back; aisle or center, the choice is all yours.
  • Mental and Physical Preparation: Arriving early allows you a few moments of relaxation. It can be a chance to use the restroom without rushing, switch off or silence your phone, and mentally transition from the outside world to the cinematic one. It’s a buffer zone that ensures you’re entirely present for the movie experience.
  • Enjoying the Theater Architecture: Some theaters, especially historic ones or those with a particular theme, boast beautiful interiors. From majestic chandeliers to murals and intricate carvings, arriving early gives you a chance to appreciate this artistry.

Insider Tips for the Ultimate Experience

  • Loyalty Programs and Memberships: Many theaters offer loyalty programs that can provide a host of benefits. This could include discounted tickets, priority seating, or exclusive previews. If you’re a regular movie-goer, it’s worth enrolling.
  • App Magic: Numerous theaters have their dedicated apps these days. Through these, you can check showtimes, book tickets, and even pre-order your snacks. Some apps also have a feature that shows peak times, helping you plan your arrival better.
  • Check Seat Maps: If the theater offers reserved seating, taking a peek at the seat map a few hours before the show can give you an idea of how crowded it’s likely to be. If it’s mostly booked, it’s a cue to head there early.
  • Dress for Comfort: Theaters can sometimes be chilly due to air conditioning. Carrying a light sweater or hoodie can ensure you remain comfortable throughout the screening. Opt for comfy footwear too!
  • BYOS (Bring Your Own Snacks): Some theaters allow you to bring your own snacks. If you have dietary restrictions or are just looking to save some money, packing your goodies can be a good idea. Just ensure they’re not too noisy to open during the movie – no one wants to be that person!
  • Engage with the Staff: Movie theater staff can be a treasure trove of information. They can tip you off about upcoming specials, the best times to visit, or even their personal movie recommendations.
  • Stay for the Credits: Apart from showing respect to the hundreds of people involved in making the movie, sometimes there are post-credit scenes that you wouldn’t want to miss. Also, some movies play great soundtracks during the credits.
  • Avoid Peak Times: If you’re flexible with your schedule, consider going for weekday screenings or matinees. These tend to be less crowded, offering a more relaxed viewing experience.
  • Review Policies: Every theater has its policies – some may have strict rules about phone usage, while others might have a relaxed environment. It’s always a good idea to be aware of these to avoid any surprises.


How early should I arrive for a blockbuster or highly anticipated movie?

For major releases, especially on opening weekends, it’s advisable to arrive at least 45 minutes to an hour early. This ensures you get good seats, especially in theaters without a reservation system, and also gives you time to grab snacks.

Is 15 minutes before the movie starts sufficient on weekdays?

On weekdays, especially during non-peak hours, 15 minutes might be adequate for smaller theaters or less popular movies. However, always factor in the time for parking, ticket collection, and any other potential delays.

If I’ve pre booked my seat, do I still need to come early?

Pre-booking can guarantee you a seat, but arriving at least 20 minutes early ensures you have enough time to settle in, purchase concessions, and not feel rushed.

Do theaters start the movie immediately at the stated time?

Generally, theaters play advertisements and trailers before the main film. The actual movie might start 15-20 minutes after the stated time. However, it’s good etiquette and part of the experience to watch these as well.

What’s the best time to visit the concession stand and avoid long queues?

To avoid long lines at the concession stand, consider going during off-peak times, like weekday afternoons, or arriving slightly earlier than the average movie-goer, around 30 minutes before showtime.

Are there quieter days or times to watch a movie?

Weekday afternoons and late nights are usually quieter. Weekends, especially Saturday nights, are typically the busiest. It also depends on the movie; a big release will draw larger crowds for the first week or two.

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