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Go to the movies for free

A website called Gofobo gives out passes in many major cities. Here's how to claim yours.

By Donna_Freedman Feb 27, 2012 12:38PM
When I go to the movies, I prefer matinees. Double-digit ticket prices are not frugal. But I saw "Gone" on Thursday night without paying a dime.

No, I didn't sneak in.

I got a free ticket to a preview and enjoyed the stomach-knotting thriller with about a hundred other frugal film aficionados. Since the movie hadn't opened yet, we were all insiders together. (Post continues after video.)
The preview was organized by Gofobo, a website that specializes in movie screenings, contests and special events. Gofobo organizes previews in nearly 150 U.S. and Canadian cities; in the past four years, the company has handed out 6 million passes for some 10,000 screenings.

That's an average of 600 tickets per showing. The overbooking is intentional, since some people print the passes but don't bother attending. But enough of us love free movies that there's always a line at these things, so don't wait until the last minute to show up.
In eight years of previewing, I've never been turned away. But Gofobo Marketing Director Chris Miller suggests getting there up to 90 minutes in advance because some films have more advance buzz than others.

Bring a book, play games on your smartphone or talk with your friends. Gofobo lets you print out one extra pass for a pal; get other peers in on the deal, and you can go as a group.

How to get tickets

Create an account at Gofobo, then type in your ZIP code on the site's "screenings" page. If a preview is marked "open," simply request and print your pass.

The "private" previews require a bit of sleuthing on your part. Gofobo teams up newspapers, colleges, and radio and TV stations to promote the screenings. Ask friends if they know which of those local entities tend to give away passes, then watch/listen for opportunities.

While a midlife student at the University of Washington, I'd get them through the student union. These days I check the movie ads in Seattle's two alternative newspapers. (The only radio station I listen to rarely participates in giveaways.)

If your screening does fill up, get your pass scanned by the folks running the preview. Studio publicists tend to email "turn-aways" to let them RSVP for future screenings.

Gofobo may also contact you separately about upcoming events. In fact, I got an email invite yesterday to "Salmon Fishing in the Yemen." If it's free, it's for me.

More on MSN Money:
Feb 27, 2012 6:42PM
Congrats on your new gig.  I love most of your frugal ideas.  But I'll pass on this one.  If I have to arrive up to 90 minutes in advance to ensure getting in, I'd rather pay $5 for the matinee or wait for the dvd.  Time is $$$$$ and waiting in line is not my idea of a good time.
Looking forward to reading more ideas!  Best wishes.

Feb 27, 2012 6:54PM
Myself, I generally arrive an hour in advance -- and I bring a book or something else I need/want to do. It's a chance to get out of the house while still getting things done, and to see a movie for free.
YMMV, but this is a great deal for plenty of people.
Thanks for your kind words, and for reading Frugal Cool.

Feb 27, 2012 7:18PM

Wait 90 minutes at the theater? Bring a book to read to kill the time?


Hell, by then, I'd rather just finish the book than watch the movie. So why not just stay at home and read the book since you clearly have nothing better to do?? That will definitely save money.

Mar 7, 2012 4:17PM

90 minutes is mostly for bigger movies like Harry Potter, Twilight, Dark Knight, where lines are usually long. It would be the same for a screening. For movies with little marketing or lower budget (documentaries, indies, b-list) maybe 30 minutes to an hour. I usually go to the movie theatre half an hour in advance if I go on weekends and 15-20 minutes for discounted weekdays. For Harry Potter DH2 and Toy Story 3 I went 45 minutes in advanced on the Saturday evening after its release date.

This is a great tip. Thank you for the article!

Mar 7, 2012 2:56PM
As a college kid in eburg wa I would love to know which papers you use! We would for sure make a trip for a free movie now and then!
Mar 7, 2012 3:14PM
these free screening are great, IF you have the time and don't mind waiting. i always arrive at least 2 hours in advance and have never had more than say 15-20 people ahead of me. gofobo isn't the only site out there; there are tons. knowing these will increase your chances of finding "open" screenings. gofobo doesn't always offer open screenings; you may need a code for them. there are also forums out there where people share passes and codes. you sort of have to be "in the know" :)
Feb 27, 2012 6:09PM
I love Gofobo. Granted, it will advertise/invite you to movies that you have absolutely no interest in. But as long as it offers me some movies I do want to see (and don't want to pay for!) I'm happy. It got myself and my fanboy husband in to see Green Lantern before it came out.
Mar 14, 2012 5:09PM
Cool, I'll have to check it out.  Just an additional tip, as a senior citizen, I can get into any movie for $6.00.  That is less than matinee prices in our area.  I'm attending more movies now.  $6.00 I can handle.  Free would be even better!!
Mar 7, 2012 5:15PM
Its cool that you write this article, but now because of it the website is moving slower and crashing. I've been using this site for 2 years now and this is the first time since the upgrades I've had problem signing in and viewing screenings. Oh well.Smile
Mar 7, 2012 5:13PM
Most of the time, gofobo is just the place you print your passes from.  Gofobo passes are usually awarded through local contests, radio/tv stations, websites, etc.  If you live near Metro Detroit, we can help you find those contests.
Mar 7, 2012 6:07PM

Hehe, been doing that for awhile.  I usually just get there 10 min before it starts.  Sometimes I get in, sometimes I don’t.  People have better things to do instead of arriving 90 minutes early.  For example, how much does 90 minutes worth to you?  The answer will be vary due to how people view time spent.  In any case, free is always good.  ^_^

Feb 10, 2013 10:44AM
Should have been in town.   I was thinking about wearing my knee length down coat (purchased at a clearance sale for $20 - 5 years ago) while standing in line for 90 mins.  Sorry.
Feb 10, 2013 10:41AM
Oh my goodness, what negativity!!!  Just because you can't or won't use the suggestions, does not mean they are not good.  And I may actually use this one, when the weather is not too cold to stand outside for 90 minutes.   Especially now that I'm looking for discount movie tickets as my Entertainment Book - online via my Dream Machine points no longer offers coupons to the one theatre we have in down.

FYI - If you have a AAA membership and a AAA store nearby you can get the tickets for $6 each.

Feb 27, 2012 3:47PM
Thanks, Donna.  I just found a screening in Virginia Beach!  21 Jump Street.  Gee I wonder if JD is starring in it?  I'll have to check.
Feb 27, 2012 3:52PM
I saw a preview for that. Never having seen the TV show, it would all be new to me.
It would be fun if they got Depp to make a cameo.

Mar 7, 2012 3:12PM
are these at the theaters where you pay 10.00 for popcorn and a goober? please explain "free" to me  LOL !!!
Mar 10, 2012 11:14AM
Mar 7, 2012 3:48PM
Good grief, a story about free movies.  The last new release movie I saw was Twister at a drive-in theater. 
Mar 7, 2012 3:54PM
"Watch movies for free"

Yeah, it's called Internet Piracy. Not hard, and not new news.

Mar 7, 2012 4:40PM

wow.more bs .is this news ? these idiots must be board if this is all they can come up with.whos the hired help ? MONKIES ?

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Donna Freedman's Frugal Nation blog is for readers who want to live cheaply -- whether due to necessity or a lifestyle choice. It explores living sustainably and making life more meaningful at the same time.


Donna Freedman

Donna Freedman, a writer based in Anchorage, Alaska, writes the Frugal Nation blog for MSN Money. She won regional and national prizes during an 18-year newspaper career and earned a college degree in midlife without taking out student loans. Donna also writes about the frugal life for her own site, Surviving and Thriving.