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Rent Vs. Own: Movies

by Ryan Guina

My wife and I recently went out to the movie theater for the first time in a long time. The final bill, including a large popcorn and soft drink, was $32. That’s not very expensive for a night out, but as far as watching movies go, it is fairly expensive.

This made me ask myself what is the most cost-effective way of watching movies? Obviously watching every new film at the movie theater is not a good way to go. So is it better to rent or buy movies?

Renting Movies: Renting costs around $3 per movie. You generally get to keep the movie long enough to watch it one time, so the cost is about $3 per viewing. If it is a great movie, you may decide to purchase it. If it is not very good, $3 is no big loss.

Then there is the battle between Blockbuster and Netflix. With these companies you pay a set amount every month and receive movies from your wish list as you view and return the movies you receive.

Free trial for Blockbuster and Netflix!

Buying Movies: The cost of DVDs varies greatly. Most new releases retail for around $15-22. Wal-Mart and Target routinely carry good movies in the $8-12 range. Many stores also have bargain racks where DVDs are priced between $5-7. Some stores, especially video rental stores and some used book stores, sell pre-viewed DVDs at a steep discount. I have quite a few pre-viewed DVDs in my collection.

At these prices, owning a movie makes a lot of sense if you plan on watching it several times. In fact, in most cases you only have to view a DVD 2-3 times before it pays for itself. When you own the DVD, you also have the option of lending it out or temporarily swapping it with a friend or co-worker for one of their movies. This is another great way to save some money when watching new movies.

Which is better? In most cases, I prefer to buy movies. When I buy DVDs, I look for inexpensive movies I have seen and liked, or movies that have actors I enjoy. The expenditure is usually recouped within 2-3 viewings and every viewing after that is free.

I have on many occasions purchased movies without seeing them before. What if you buy a dud? I’ve done it. I bought Sideways. It was a decent flick, but I didn’t like it enough to watch it multiple times (even though it won a bunch of awards). When my father asked me how I liked it, I told him to take it home and watch it – and not bring it back. I’m not sure if he liked it, but the movie only cost me $7 (pre-viewed from a rental store). After we both watched it, it was paid for. So I don’t look at that as a loss.

Even though I think buying movies does give you the best bang for the buck, renting does have its place. There are some movies you know you will only watch one time and do not want to own. Good examples would be documentaries or anything with Ben Affleck or Pauly Shore. ;)


Published or updated March 30, 2011.
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1 vause

I have to agree with you. I like to go to walmart and look into their pile of $5 movies sometimes you can find good movies!!

2 pf101

I also buy most of my movies. My problem is that I’m horrible at remembering to return movies (and books which is one reason why I buy those too) and back in the day of late fees, I would end up oweing 2-3 times what it would have cost to just buy it so I gave up on renting and started buying. People laugh at me a bit, but it works for me. I buy previously viewed and I even still have a VCR so those movies I can get for $2-3 which is a total bargain. My biggest problem is space. I keep my DVDs in a binder and toss the cases but that’s not really possible with VHS movies…

3 Anonymous

I’m a happy Netflix subscriber. If you watch the movies on the night they arrive or the next evening and then return them, it works out to less that $2 per movie. That’s even true if you keep some movies for a week or so. That’s a pretty accurate description of our viewing pattern.

If I really like a movie and I think I’ll watch it again, then I’ll buy a copy. That means that for movies that I’m going to watch over and over, I’ve paid for a rental in addition to the price of the DVD I bought. However, it means that I’m buying a lot fewer DVDs.

The biggest factor that would convince me to switch to Blockbuster from Netflicks would be a larger selection of movies I want to see. They both have every movie that hit the theaters in a big way in the past couple of decades. However, I enjoy classic movies, foreign films and documentaries too.

4 Ryan

I don’t think my wife and I watch enough movies to get our money’s worth from Netflix or Blockbuster, but I think if we watched more movies that is the way I would like to go.

As it stands, we only watch a few movies per month. Things might change when we have children and we stay at home more. :)

5 Clever Dude

I can’t really see the point in buying a movie you haven’t seen yet, unless it’s less than the price to rent it. I pay $19 per month after taxes for Blockbuster, and can just rent the movie when I want to see it again. Why would I want that junk cluttering up my home just so I FEEL like I can watch it any time I want? Let Blockbuster or Netflix hold onto it until I want to see it. Until then, I’ll use that money savings to rent other movies I’d like to see. I can always use the free coupons Blockbuster gives each month, or take in one of my mailed movies in exchange for a movie off the shelf.

However, paying what we pay, we feel like we NEED to watch at least 4-5 movies per month to break even on what we would have spent at Blockbuster to rent the movie. We didn’t watch nearly as many movies back before we signed up for Netflix years ago.

But, I have a few friends who just go buy a $10-15 movie without ever seeing it in hopes that it would be good and they’ll want to watch it again. They say they’d rather buy it now rather than rent and then want to buy it. They think they’re throwing that money away by renting first. I think it’s the other way around, based on their experiences.

6 Ryan

Clever Dude, you make several good points. For me, the “need to watch 4-5 movies per month” sticks out. My wife and I usually don’t watch that many movies per month. You also wrote that you watch more movies now because you have the monthly rental fees, so it seems like the subscription has altered your lifestyle (I’m not judging, blogging has altered my lifestyle!).

I think one of the reasons I have stayed away from Netflix and Blockbuster is because I like to keep my fixed monthly expenses low. However, over the course of the year I may end up spending a similar amount on purchased movies, so that might be a wash. (It looks like it’s time to check Quicken to find out!)

While I have bought quite a few movies without seeing them, I usually only buy those movies pre-viewed or if they are very inexpensive ($5-10).

It seems like a lot of people are very supportive of Netflix and Blockbuster. I think at some point I may have to check it out for myself. I’m sure that if I do, I will love it, and I will finally catch up on all the good movies I’ve missed out on over the years.

You make some very valid observations! :)

7 D.

The only movies that I watch are opera dvds which can be really expensive around 20 or 30 dollars a pop. I usually buy used because dvds and cds last a long time. I see that netflix has an ok supply of opera dvds but the quality is lacking, so I am tempted to say that I am better off buying an EXCELLENT opera dvd for a fee of $20-30 (per month) rather than paying $10-15 for a rental of opera dvds that are inferior and make me want to buy the real thing instead which means the cost of entertainment goes up.

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