We have all experienced the frustration of wondering exactly what time a movie starts.
Sure, the ticket might say 7:30 showtime. But if you show up early for good seats, not only do you have to wait until 7:30 for the programming to start, but then you are stuck watching previews and advertisements.
On the flip side, there are times when we try to outsmart the system by showing up late on purpose. Since we expect 15 minutes of previews, many of us also make the mistake of showing up for a 7:30 movie at 7:45, only to find that the previews were shorter than expected and we have now missed the opening scene(s) of the movie!
In this article, we will help you avoid these frustrations by answering a couple of age-old questions. First: How long are previews before a movie? And second: Does a movie actually start at the time shown on the ticket?
Quick Answer: How long are previews before a movie?
For anybody that wants to skim the article and find the quick answer, we will give you the short version here – 15 to 25 minutes of previews are typical before a movie.
These previews include trailers for upcoming movies, advertisements for snacks and sodas, and even advertisements for the theater that you are sitting in at that particular moment. And don’t forget the “Please remember to silence your phone” message that plays before showtime, as well.
Although 15-25 minutes is the most common length of previews, there is a tremendous amount of variation. So, this is only a rough estimate.
Continue reading to see the differences between theaters, time of year, and genres of movies.
Theater Differences – Variability & Caveats
Many users have noticed that different theater chains have different customary preview lengths. For example, AMC might show previews for more (or less) time than the Cinemark across the street. This is not exactly surprising.
The part that actually is surprising is that different theaters of the same company will also have different preview lengths. So, an AMC in Dallas might show 15 minutes of previews, while an AMC in New York shows 25 minutes of previews.
Because of this variation, it is hard to draw any solid conclusions. Unless you know the guy who actually pushes the “play” button at your local theater, there are no guarantees.
However, there are some trends that can be observed.
- Large, national chains tend to have longer preview runtimes on average
Cinemark, Regal, and AMC generally spend more time playing previews than a small, regional movie theater does. This is probably just due to the fact that the large national chains have relationships in place with advertisers, so there is more demand (and money) for the large chains to show advertisements.
In other words, if Coca-Cola spends some money running Diet Coke ads before showtime, it is more likely that they will run these ads at a few thousand AMC or Regal locations rather than your locally-owned art house theater.
In fact, many independent movie theaters show 10 minutes or less of previews. At the independent theater in my hometown (which has since closed, of course), the only previews would be 2-3 trailers for upcoming indie films, followed by an advertisement for the local coffee shop which gave you half-price drinks if you brought in your ticket stub.
So, if you are attending a movie at a locally-owned, art house, or independent theater, you will want to show up right at showtime (or even a little earlier). At Regal or Cinemark, you can almost guarantee that there will be 10+ minutes of previews. At independent theaters, it is anybody’s guess. These smaller theaters are also often constructed in a way that makes it more disruptive for a late arrival to show up.
- When a blockbuster film is playing, preview runtimes are typically longer
Again, there is no rule here that is set in stone. But thousands of anecdotal data points have helped to draw this conclusion.
If you are going to the sold-out opening night of the new Marvel superhero movie, you should be prepared for above-average preview lengths. Generally, this means that you will sit through 20+ minutes of previews (in some cases, this number will actually approach 30 minutes).
Ultimately, this all comes down to dollars and cents. Advertisers know that a $150 million opening weekend for a blockbuster film means lots and lots of eyeballs. That means more Coke commercials, more popcorn advertisements, and more advertisements about the premium cinema options at the theater you are attending.
- During peak season, preview runtimes are typically longer
This goes hand-in-hand with the above point. July blockbusters will typically show more trailers and advertisements than you would see if you go to a smaller February release. Again, this is largely a financial decision. Remember also that even though summer is typically considered peak season, there are other times of year when moviegoing spikes, such as Christmas.
So, what time does the movie actually start? Do previews start at movie time?
By now, we have covered the fact that previews typically last 15-25 minutes, but some theaters show significantly more or less previews. In smaller, independently-owned theaters, you may see less than 10 minutes of previews. At larger theater chains, you may see 25+ minutes of previews, especially during peak season and with major releases.
But what does this actually mean for you, as a moviegoer? Well, to begin, you should know that the movie generally starts about 15-25 minutes after the time displayed on your ticket. So, if your ticket says 8:00, you probably won’t miss anything if you show up at 8:10 (or even 8:15).
If you plan to show up after the time shown on your ticket, remember that you should still be a good neighbor to others in the theater.
Be sure to remain silent upon entry, first of all. And don’t spend too much time finding your seat, or crowding others that are already seated.
And lastly, some people actually do enjoy watching trailers and previews – so don’t be disruptive or on your phone! Even if you consider the trailers to be “just advertisements,” they are actually an important part of the moviegoing experience for many of us.
Although most theaters show 15-25 minutes of previews before a movie, there is too much variability to draw definite conclusions. This means that, if you are in a new or unfamiliar theater, it is still safest to be seated by the showtime listed on your ticket. This way you ensure that you won’t miss any of the action.
If you want to take a risk by showing up late, remember that previews tend to be 15+ minutes at national theater chains, during peak season, and during the release of major films.
With smaller, independent, or art house theaters, there is always a chance that your film will start right at the time shown on the ticket, so it is safest not to run late in that case. And even if the theater does show previews, there is a good chance that they will be significantly shorter, perhaps even 10 minutes or less.