I’ve always been a little curious about going to the movies in Panama. How much different would it be from going to the movies in the U.S.?
Are there subtitles in English or Spanish? Are the movies dubbed over in Spanish? Is it cheaper than what we’re used to seeing? What is the experience like in the theater – are the Panamanians talkers during the movie?
We’ve lived in Boquete, Panama since 2019 and only finally went to see our first movie here last week… Spider-Man: Far from Home.
It was an awesome movie though and worth the wait. More importantly, I can now fill you in on what you’ll want to know about going to the movies in Panama.
Movies in Panama Lesson #1… Subbed or dubbed?
In Panama, there aren’t a ton of movie theaters outside of the Panama City area. In fact, in the Chiriquí province where we live, I’m only aware of two and they’re both in the city of David: Cines Moderno (aka Modern Cinemas) and Cinépolis. Cines Moderno is a part of City Mall next door to Pricesmart and looks to be a nice theater.
But the one we were excited to go to was the Cinépolis theater in the new Federal Mall in David. This one is a little closer to Boquete right off the highway and it’s out of the hustle-bustle of the main city of David.
Ok, so once you decide on the movie theater you want to go to, head to their website to see what movies are playing. Then it’s time to learn the basics of how the movies are going to be shown.
Assuming you’re going to see a movie that was filmed in English, the Panamanians will want to understand it in Spanish. That means that the English-speaking movies in Panama will generally either have Spanish subtitles or they’re dubbed in Spanish.
If you’re an English speaker, the dubbed movie most likely isn’t going to be what you want to see. That means they’ve dubbed over the audio with Spanish voices for the actors and you’re not going to understand much. These dubbed movies will be marked as “DOB”, which is short for the Spanish word “doblado.” These movies will essentially be completely in Spanish with no subtitles.
As a side note, most kids’ movies (ie rated G) are only going to be available as dubbed in Spanish. So if your kids don’t speak Spanish, this could make for an interesting couple of hours of frustration in your family.
The movies that most English speakers will be after are the ones marked “SUB.” This is short for the Spanish word “subtitulos”, which you might have guessed is for subtitles. Sometimes, you might also see it listed as “DIGSUB.”
The movies in Panama with subtitles make sense if you only speak English because the voices will continue to be in English. That way it’ll be like a movie you’re used to, except…
There will be Spanish subtitles throughout the movie but what better way to learn some Spanish while being entertained?! This is a fantastic way to follow along and learn some new curse words in Spanish, too!
In our case, Spider-Man: Far from Home was a very popular movie so it was being offered in every which way you can imagine. Unsurprisingly, we opted for “SUB” so we could hear the movie with their original English voices.
Movies in Panama Lesson #2… Buying tickets the easy way!
Ok, so here’s something cool about the movies in Panama (at least at the Cinépolis theater) – the seats are all numbered and you can book the specific seats you want. Similar to going to a concert or play, you’re able to choose in advance where you want to sit. You can do this online or in person at the theater.
The easiest way to buy your tickets is online in advance. Easy peasy. When you get to the theater, you just show the QR code on your phone that you get from your purchase and you’re in like Flynn!
Unfortunately, for some reason, we couldn’t get our payment to go through. Maybe it’s a problem with U.S.-based credit cards or maybe it was just a glitch at the time.
Regardless, no big deal. We just arrived at the theater early and bought our tickets there.
But here’s a cool tip that Faith’s friend, Ciera, taught us. Instead of waiting in the long line with all the other schmoes to buy tickets, you can go straight ahead to the snack counter and actually buy your tickets there.
We immediately bought our tickets there with no hassle or wait. They have the same monitors to let you choose your seats and everything. The cashier printed off our tickets for us and then we were off to walk around the mall to get some shopping done for a bit while everyone else still waited in the cattle line.
Leave it to the smart kids to teach us some cool, new tricks!
Movies in Panama Lesson #3… It’s a heckuva lot cheaper here!
I’ve always heard that going to the movies in Panama is pretty inexpensive. But again, we had never gone before so I hadn’t ever seen the prices before.
And regardless of those cheap prices I had circling in the back of my head, I’m also picturing some basic, older movie theaters. So my expectations with the big high-end “megaplex” type of theaters were what I thought would be more realistic. It’ll probably be more in line with the prices of the similar high-end megaplex theaters in the States.
Well, it turned out to be a nice surprise. Sure, the prices aren’t 2 bucks a ticket but they’re not too far off and a lot cheaper than what I thought they’d be.
For the regular showing of the Spider-Man movie, children under 3 and disabled adults are $2.25, kids are $3.50, and adults are $5…
Holy crap – that’s cheap! But there’s a monster 40¢ surcharge on each ticket as well [please note sarcasm].
Now, that’s for a normal showing of the movie. We decided to see the higher-priced 3D version of the movie so that came to a total of $6.75 for each adult ticket and $5.25 for each kid. For the four of us (our family and Faith’s friend, Ciera), the total cost for the 3D movie was $24 out the door…
And that was it – bada-bing, bada-boom – not too shabby at all for a 3D blockbuster!
But Jim, surely the snacks crushed your pocketbook – that’s where they make their money!
Look, we all know that you’re paying a premium for the snacks and drinks at the movies – that’s the way it goes. So, I’m not saying it’s cheap here per se… but it’s a heckuva lot less expensive than the snack prices in the U.S. theaters!
We bought the biggest size of buttered popcorn they had (the jumbo) to share and four 600 ml bottles of water (about 20 oz. each). Total snack cost… $12.10.
Again, yes, it’s a lot more than you’d pay buying it from a grocery store. However, I consider that a much more reasonable and fair price than when you get slaughtered in U.S. movie theaters.
Heck, here’s a picture of the whole snack menu to see the current prices (click to open it full size)…
Yeah, I’d say going to the movies in Panama is a pretty darn good deal!
Movies in Panama Lesson #4… Enjoying a nice, empty theater!
This part’s a little interesting and my guess is that it relates to what we talked about earlier about seeing movies in Panama as dubbed or with subtitles.
We had almost the entire room to ourselves for a brand-new, blockbuster movie. Why?
It’s not because Panamanians don’t want to watch the friendly neighborhood Spider-Man in action. That’s still big here and it was pretty crowded throughout the giant lobby in general.
Here’s my thought… as I mentioned, we chose to watch a version of the Spider-Man movie with Spanish subtitles. My thinking is that when a movie is offered here in multiple formats, most Panamanians will want to see the movie dubbed over with Spanish voices rather than needing to read Spanish subtitles the whole time.
I would bet that the other dubbed showings were likely packed. And considering that most of the English-speaking ex-pats in this province are a little older, there’s probably not a huge demand for going to see Spider-Man with the Spanish subtitles as we did either.
The good news is that we saw a 3D version of a hit movie in an evening only a week and a half after it opened in a beautiful new theater with maybe 15 other people in the whole auditorium. That’s incredible!
I will add that we did go on a Tuesday night so that’s probably not the biggest day to see movies in Panama, but the Cinépolis theater was hopping in general nonetheless.
I can’t guarantee you that your stars will align as nicely as ours did, but I do have a feeling that subbed movies will generally be less popular than dubbed movies when given a choice by Spanish-speaking Panamanians.
Movies in Panama Lesson #5… Just like the U.S., there are always talkers
Yeah, what can I say… you can’t escape ’em anywhere in the world. Ugh.
Even in a theater with only 15 other people scattered throughout, we still had a woman a couple of rows behind us who just could not stop talking. Luckily, for once, she wasn’t a loud talker.
After a while, I barely even noticed it, but sheesh – why? Don’t go to a movie if you don’t want to watch it. If I owned a theater, I might hire armed guards to enforce silence once the movies start… slightly drastic? Maybe.
Oh, well – such is life. As I said, she wasn’t horribly loud and the movie was still fantastic.
Going to the movies in Panama turned out to be great fun and at a nice price. I have a feeling we might try to squeeze another one of these in sometime in the near future. The next time you’re in Panama, you might want to consider doing the same!
Plan well, take action, and live your best life!
Thanks for reading!!
6 thoughts on “Going to the Movies in Panama: 5 Interesting Lessons Learned”
What fun. Thank you for the post
Thanks, Karen – it was fun and a little interesting to see the differences!
Agree that watching tv (or in this case, movies) in another language with subtitles is a fantastic way to learn!
Yeah, I’ve heard people say that before but I’ve just never done it before… but I’m going to try to make that a habit going forward! 🙂
Are all the prices in the pictures US dollar? Is that the norm?
Yes, those prices are in USD, which is essentially what is used here in Panama. And yes, that’s the norm on prices but might even be a lot cheaper at theaters that aren’t monster new ones like this one. Crazy, right?