Bringing Snacks Into a Movie Theater – Frugal or Unethical?

by Mike on May 26, 2010

Every once in a while I’ll come across an article about saving money at the movies. These usually contain good advice such as attend matinees, look for discounts, and avoiding the concession stand. These are all great ideas, but what then happens is inevitably someone mentions bringing your own snacks into the theater. In my humble opinion, this crosses the line beyond creative frugality.

Most movie managers do not allow you to bring in outside snacks. This is because it is no secret that movies make most of their money from the concession stand. The most common argument for bringing your own snacks is that movie candies & snacks are unfairly marked up…sometimes as much as 900%. As grievous as that may be….it’s their right. They are not forcing anyone to purchase from the concession stands to see the movie.

Another common argument is that its “our right” to bring in what we want. That statement is inaccurate. Your purchased ticket gives you the right to enter the premises for the designated amount of time. However, you are still expected to abide by the owners rules. It would be the equivalent of going to someone’s home and lighting a cigarette without permission. Just because you brought them with you doesn’t give you the right to do so. The example is extreme, but I hope it effectively demonstrates my point: when you are a guest (or customer) on someone else’s property, you must abide by their rules.

If you want to save money at the movies, my recommendations are:

  1. Skip the concession stand: Not only is it expensive but you’re going to pack on the calories! Most movies are 2 hours….don’t go hungry. Eat before or after. If you just have to stop at the stand…share. You’ll be splitting the cost and the calories. Your waistline and wallet will thank you.
  2. Set up your own movie night at home! Grab a DVD or BluRay through Netflix or Redbox, and bring all the snacks you want!

I realize I’m probably in the minority and that’s OK. Feel free to disagree with me. But either way….I’d love to hear your opinions!

What about you? Do you believe it is OK to bring your own snacks into the movies? Why or why not?

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{ 26 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Alex July 20, 2012 at 2:52 pm

Hi, Why don’t you put a Google+ bottom on your blog ?

2 Calvin May 21, 2012 at 11:56 am

Went to see the Avengers in 3D!! 🙂 4 of us
$52 for tickets.
$72 for snacks
Knowing I don’t have to pay for it …PRICELESS

If I did have to pay for the tickets/ snacks, it would have went a little like this.
1) Explain to them this is a blockbuster movie, and it will be very busy, also might be hard to find 4 seats in a row. suggest that we watch the movie on Tuesday night, it would be like having our own theater. Keep in mind that I know our local theater has a special movie ticket price for Tuesdays 🙂 $5 a ticket.
2) Find a movie time and make a 90 minute window where we can grab some food. Not only will the the food cost less, but im sure it will be a lot more healthier for you . In my case it was Chicago fire pizza in Folsom, CA YUM!!! stuffed pizza $26.
3)arrive at the theater 20 minutes be fore show. Either put your jacket in the trunk of the car ,or take you jacket from the trunk of your car. Either way open the trunk “ow wow I was looking for that back of beef jerkey all over the place!” wink wink ! enjoy the movie. 🙂

3 Frank February 1, 2011 at 9:50 am

From the cinemas point of view it is clear why they do this. But you are paying to see the film. I don’t see any reason why you cannot take your own food/drink in. Crazy.

4 Dave November 17, 2010 at 7:47 pm

Kudos on your integrity. I’m a believer in a free market. It’s their food, they can charge what they want, and it’s their theater, they can make the rules. It’s not like it’s an apocolyptic wasteland and they’re hoarding food and water. Sure it’s not really a big deal, but it is a matter of principle. Are you four years old? Who can’t go 2 hours without eating? Just have lunch or dinner beforehand.

5 Kate June 8, 2010 at 1:25 pm

I don’t think there is anything wrong with bringing your own snacks into movie theathers. Generally I always end up buying a drink and popcorn, but sometimes I bring in my own red vines (my theater has twizzlers) or other candy I have around the house. I also remember going to the movies in my college town where you could hear everyone open their coke cans when the lights went down – hilarious!

6 Squirrelers June 6, 2010 at 9:44 pm

I have done this before, but it was when I was younger. Now, I would have to say that I have come around to your view on this.

Instead of sneaking food in, just don’t buy anything, or eat before you get there. Besides, movie theatre popcorn is absolutely hazardous to our health! I went to see a movie with my nearly 7-year old daughter today, and I’m proud to say that we did not buy anything at all! On our way out after the movie, to my surprise she asked me “Daddy, can I get some Nachos”, but chuckled as I told her that cheese shouldn’t be glowing orange, and it wasn’t good for her. Or cheap, either:)
.-= Squirrelers´s last blog ..Squirreling Gone Wild #8 – Doubling Down =-.

7 corey June 5, 2010 at 3:41 am

Bringing food in theaters is actually frugal . We can get every thing in theater so why do people bring food over there .This is nothing but frugal thing .

8 Mrs. Accountability June 4, 2010 at 10:25 am

I have taken my own snacks in on occasion, although I agree with you it is not ethical, and like Bucksome Boomer, I’ve done it more on the grounds of wanting something more healthy and/or simply wanting just a *LITTLE* bit of a treat, not a huge box.

9 Trace June 3, 2010 at 3:31 pm

Take my own snacks all the time. The prices are crazy-stupid. The most they would do is kick you out. They can’t have you arrested.But have you ever seen someone kicked out of a theater for bringing snacks? My kids are totally aware of the markup and are like “we can buy a whole bunch of candy for the price of just one at the movies. To each his own.

10 Suzanne June 3, 2010 at 2:06 pm

I never really thought about this before. We don’t often go to the movies because the cost of admission for our family of four is almost $40! We usually treat ourselves to a late popcorn to share (it’s not the movies w/o popcorn) and 2 drinks one for the kids and one for us. So till it’s all said and done we spend about $60 total for the evening out. Not bad considering dinner for four in a restaurant is at least that much. So we eat at home and enjoy the evening.
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11 Heather June 3, 2010 at 1:40 pm

I’m with you on this one, though my mom used to do it all the time. I will occasionally cross the line and bring single-serve candy for my girls – but mostly because I need to be sure it’s gluten free.

Our typical solution is to buy 1 thing and split it among all 3 girls – and we don’t do it every time we go to the movies. In fact, we’re hitting the free movie every week this summer. The girls know I will only buy snacks on the first day to kick off the summer. They sometimes pool their money for the rest.
.-= Heather´s last blog ..Stockpiling vs. Hoarding =-.

12 Dr Dean June 3, 2010 at 1:30 pm

I agree, the guilt feelings would spoil my appetite.

And I don’t really enjoy a movie unless I am eating theater popcorn! (No added butter like oily substitute!)

I do share my diet coke and popcorn with my lover (wife of 30!).
.-= Dr Dean´s last blog ..High Paid Nursing Specialties: Are They Worth It? =-.

13 Bucksome Boomer May 29, 2010 at 11:05 pm

We’ve been guilty of taking our own snacks into the theatre. Often it’s because I want something healthier than what the theatre sells.

I understand your point, but am not convinced that it’s wrong.
.-= Bucksome Boomer´s last blog ..Groups and Vacations =-.

14 PF Journey May 31, 2010 at 8:12 am

Hey Bucksome!

Long time no hear from! One of my Facebook friends posted a similar discussion on my page. I’ve encouraged her to come by here and share her thoughts as well.

I’d challenge anyone who doesn’t feel it is wrong to inform the manager that you’ll be taking your own snacks in. Like Peter said…some theaters are OK with it.

Some don’t have signs prohibiting it — grey area at best.

And those that outright forbid it, where food is being SMUGGLED in….that’s not right

15 Divine and Debt Free May 27, 2010 at 4:40 pm

I don’t go to the movies a whole heck of a lot these days but I was notorious for bringing snacks in because welll uhhh it was just cheaper that way lol.

Now days usually my plan to attend a movie is well thought out in advance and since its rare, it includes having dinner before the movie. That way I know I won’t be hungry and tempted to spend my hard earned money on 900% marked up candy n food!

good post!

16 Jason @ Redeeming Riches May 27, 2010 at 9:54 am

Good post – I haven’t really thought about this before. We don’t often go to the theatre and never buy snacks or bring our own, but it’s an intriguing question. Thanks for bringing it up! I would agree with Pete – if it’s allowed go for it, if not then you should probably get your sweet fix afterwards.
.-= Jason @ Redeeming Riches´s last blog ..Greed Is Good!? Why Jesus Emphatically Warns Against Greed! =-.

17 Money Obedience May 27, 2010 at 4:54 am

I am with you. It is wrong to bring in food if the owner clearly states that you are not supposed to do it. We usually follow your two suggestions when we want to save money while watching a movie.

It looks to me that the markups at the concession stands are about right. Enough consumers seem to be willing to bear the high cost of concessions at movie theaters. Nothing unfair about that, is there?
.-= Money Obedience´s last blog ..Statistics Schmamistics in Financial Planning =-.

18 Donna Freedman May 27, 2010 at 1:04 am

I’m always surprised by people who can’t go for two hours without eating. Unless you have a medical condition that requires your blood sugar be kept at a constant level, couldn’t you just wait and eat later? Or eat right before you go?
If management searched my bag (and I’d be VERY uncomfortable allowing that), then at least one granola bar would be found. I keep one in my backpack at all times, in case I get hungry when I’m away from home for a long time or in case I find someone who’s hungry. (I’ve given away more than a few in this manner.) I also carry peppermint Lifesavers in my jacket pocket, and sometimes a couple of Tootsie Rolls for my great-nephews.
Do I have the right to refuse to be searched? Sure. But they’d have the right to deny me entrance. When I enter a private business I agree to obey by the rules (no spitting, no biting, no shouting “fire!” in the theater). I don’t have to LIKE it, but I do have to accept it.
But seriously: You can’t go two hours without eating? Then do as Lakita suggests: Rent a movie and eat all the snackies you want.
.-= Donna Freedman´s last blog ..Tania and Catseye: Where are you??? =-.

19 Khaleef @KNS Financial May 26, 2010 at 6:15 pm

We are guilty of stopping at the dollar store to buy snacks before seeing a movie (which we do about 1 or 2 times a year). However, your post is really going to make me reconsider that action. Like Peter, I will see if any local theaters allow us to bring in our own snacks.

Thanks for this article!
.-= Khaleef @KNS Financial´s last blog ..A Closer Look at Tithing Before the Law of Moses – Abraham’s Example – Does Abraham’s Tithe to Melchizedek Provide an Example for us Today? =-.

20 PF Journey May 27, 2010 at 7:16 am

That’s great! And I really like Peter’s suggestion too! Local is the way to go if available in your area 🙂

21 Rhona May 26, 2010 at 2:51 pm

I personally believe that it is not ok to sneak in snacks to the movie theatres although I did it once. I have to tell you, I thought I was going to be arrested the entire time there. I was so scared. That will never happen again. After that incident I realized my conscience was screaming at me and I just felt dishonest. As you pointed out, I either eat before or after the theatre. Or, in my area, there are certain older theatres that offer great deals for movie and popcorn/pop. For example the last time I saw a move, Date Night, I paid $6.00/ticket. For that, we had a choice of paying an extra $1.00 for a large popcorn and pop! Fantastic price and we took ripe advantage of this. So, I felt good about my choice, didn’t feel like I was being “bad” or unethical (very important to me obviously) and saved my wallet and waistline (we shared). I agree with your assesment of the situation.

22 PF Journey May 27, 2010 at 7:15 am


Thanks for sharing that story. That’s a good example of where the amount saved isn’t worth the cost of comfort….or in your case….lack thereof.

23 Peter May 26, 2010 at 10:59 am

When I was researching a post about this topic a while back I actually found that some theaters in my area are OK with you bringing in your own snacks – it just depends on the chain sometimes and the circumstances. For example one theater here allows you to bring in snacks if they were purchased in the attached mall. If they allow it – go for it!
.-= Peter´s last blog ..Home-Buyer Tax Credits Are Being Delayed Or Denied For Some Filers =-.

24 PF Journey May 26, 2010 at 11:23 am


100% agreed! If it is allowed, then by all means.

25 Cherelle May 26, 2010 at 9:14 am

You make a good point, however that is one rule that I have no problem breaking! Personally I think $10 is already a lot of money to view a film, but I refuse to pay 5 bucks for a small drink when I can purchase a 20 ounce Arizona Iced Tea at Wilson Farms for $1. I’m sure you know that there is nothing to do in Buffalo so we go to the movies quite often, but who wants to spend all their money on snacks? The Dollar Store candy tastes just as good, and fits nicely in my purse! I’m just saying.

But wrong is wrong. Yes, I’m convicted. The Lord is still working on me 🙂

26 PF Journey May 26, 2010 at 9:43 am


Thanks for your honesty! LOL! You are right there is nothing to do in Buffalo — so sad!

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