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Rent Vs. Own: Movies

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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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