What is National Cinema Day? What should I see? Everything you need to know about why movies are $4 on Aug. 27

Here's what the critics are saying about Oppenheimer and Barbie. (Photos: Everett Collection)
Will you be seeing Oppenheimer or Barbie on National Cinema Day? (Courtesy Everett Collection)

Movie theaters got a Barbenheimer glow up when Greta Gerwig's Barbie and Christopher Nolan's Oppenheimer opened on the same July 23 weekend — an unlikely double bill that brought millions of moviegoers back to the multiplex. But some audiences still need convincing to trade their home theaters for an actual theater.

Enter National Cinema Day, the sequel to last year's inaugural event conceived by The Cinema Foundation, the non-profit arm of the National Association of Theatre Owners. On Aug. 27, moviegoers can purchase discounted $4 tickets to all the major releases — from Barbie and Oppie to Gran Turismo and Bottoms — at participating theaters. The 2022 edition saw an estimated 8.1 million people buy tickets to that summer's sparser offerings, setting attendance records for what had been a rocky year at the box office.

Here's what you need to know about National Cinema Day — and recommendations for what movie(s) to spend your $4 on.

What is National Cinema Day?

Cillian Murphy in Christopher Nolan's Oppenheimer. (Photo: Universal/Courtesy Everett Collection)
Cillian Murphy in Christopher Nolan's Oppenheimer. (Universal/Courtesy Everett Collection)

Thanks to hits like Top Gun: Maverick and Minions: The Rise of Gru, moviegoing started to acquire a pulse again in 2022 following two years of a serious slide in attendance amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. The Cinema Foundation announced National Cinema Day that August as a way to drive more audiences to theaters over the Labor Day weekend.

"We wanted to do something to celebrate moviegoing," the organization's president, Jackie Brenneman, explained in a statement. "We’re doing it by offering a 'thank you' to the moviegoers that made this summer happen and by offering an extra enticement for those who haven’t made it back yet."

In a statement announcing the 2023 edition that was provided to Yahoo Entertainment, Brenneman noted that they hoped to build on the success of last year's 8.1 million attendance figure. "We look forward to gathering at the movies and celebrating an exciting slate of new releases and classics, from beloved family favorites and outrageous comedies to thought-provoking dramas and thrilling adventures. There’s something for everyone."

There is one change to this year's National Cinema Day besides the wider range of movies available: In 2022, tickets were discounted to $3 compared to this edition's $4 price tag. Tom Cruise had better set aside some extra money for that movie popcorn he likes so much.

How do I know what theaters and movies are participating?

Margot Robbie in Greta Gerwig's Barbie. (Photo: Courtesy of Warner Bros.)
Margot Robbie in Greta Gerwig's Barbie. (Courtesy of Warner Bros.)

The Cinema Foundation has said that all movies playing in participating theaters — from the latest releases to returning champs from this year and years past like The Super Mario Bros. Movie and Jurassic Park 3D — are $4, no more and no less. That also includes such breakout independent films as Sound of Freedom and Talk to Me.

If you're still worried about being overcharged, though, you can visit the official National Cinema Day website for a list of participating theaters in your area or ticket sites like Fandango.

What should I see?

Rachel Sennott and Ayo Edebiri in Bottoms. (Courtesy Everett Collection)
Rachel Sennott and Ayo Edebiri in Bottoms. (Courtesy Everett Collection)

If you feel like you don't know Kenough to make an informed decision about what to see on Aug. 27, here's a round-up of some of the critical takes on National Cinema Day's myriad offerings.

If you want to be part of the sisterhood: Barbie

"It’s truly a movie for anyone who has ever loved being a woman or loved women....One of Barbie's most powerful messages comes in its views on womanhood. The film regularly reminds us that these Barbies are not women, they’re dolls. And Barbie is keenly aware of the effect she’s advertised as having on girls. So when our main Barbie gets to experience life as a woman in the real world for the first time, she learns a lot about the subject she thought she knew most about." — Mey Rude, Out 

If you want to brush up on your history before school starts: Oppenheimer

"When the Trinity test comes at Los Alamos after the toil of some 4,000 people and the expense of $2 billion, there’s a palpable, shuddering sense of history changing inexorably. How Nolan captures these sequences — the quiet before the sound of the explosion; the disquieting, thunderous, flag-waving applause that greets Oppenheimer after — are masterful, unforgettable fusions of sound and image, horror and awe." — Jake Coyle, AP

Caviezel in a scene from Sound of Freedom. (Photo: Amazon/Courtesy Everett Collection)
Jim Caviezel in a scene from Sound of Freedom. (Amazon/Courtesy Everett Collection)

If you want to see what all the fuss is about: Sound of Freedom

"You needn’t hold extreme beliefs to experience Sound of Freedom as a compelling movie that shines an authentic light on one of the crucial criminal horrors of our time, one that Hollywood has mostly shied away from....One of the purposes of a movie like Sound of Freedom is to sound the alarm, in the way that a dramatic feature film can do and that journalism often can’t. It takes us into the forbidden zone. It taps our primal emotion of empathetic terror." — Owen Gleiberman, Variety

If you want to meet the next generation of comedy stars: Bottoms

"The cast is the glue that holds this movie together, and anchored by its two phenomenal leads, and Seligman’s direction. [Ayo] Edebiri has a different approach to this work with her baby face, quiet sarcasm and hilarious facial expressions....[Rachel] Sennott isn’t afraid to be the center of attention, and isn’t afraid to look silly while being the center of attention. The actress has self-awareness within her to deliver lines of dialogue with her full body. The duo have different methods of execution and that’s why their chemistry is so balanced here." — Valerie Complex, Deadline

The Australian horror movie Talk to Me is like a Down Under Flatliners. (Photo: Courtesy of Sundance Institute)
A spooky scene from the Australian horror film Talk to Me. (Courtesy of Sundance Institute)

If you want to feel faint: Talk to Me

"This is a low-budget horror helmed by a young pair of mavericks. It’s anchored around a phenomenal central turn by [Sophie] Wilde, who’s all twitchy eyelids and haunted relatability. Its practical effects are effective, rendering it dead in bloated, blotchy, dripping flesh. And when the spirits reveal more demonic, subversive desires, the tricks they play on the living are delivered with a taunt and a giggle." — Clarisse Loughrey, The Independent

If you just wanna sing: The Little Mermaid Sing-Along

"[Halle] Bailey brings Ariel to life with a palpable and true sense of wonder, adventure, and passion. She truly feels like a young woman yearning to break free, where sometimes the Ariel of our childhoods — the cartoon one, of course — comes off as more of a petulant child. Bailey’s vocal abilities are off the charts, no surprise, but her stylings and vocal tone fit the innocence and sweetness of the character perfectly. It’s an excellent mix that helps shape this full, three-dimensional version of a character we remember fondly." — Lex Briscuso, The Wrap

Archie Madekwe in Gran Turismo. (Columbia Pictures/Courtesy Everett Collection)
Archie Madekwe in Gran Turismo. (Columbia Pictures/Courtesy Everett Collection)

If you're feeling a need for speed: Gran Turismo

"This is the most unexpected, must-see movie of the year from director Neill Blomkamp (District 9, Elysium). He has created the heart-pounding crowd-pleaser of the year with this classic underdog story that knocks it out of the park. Blomkamp’s style, with how he visualizes the game and where Jann is in the races, allows the scenes to burst with excitement." — Jonathan Sim, Coming Soon

If you're still playing 8-bit cartridges on your NES: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem and The Super Mario Bros. Movie

"Mutant Mayhem really focuses in on the first T of TMNT, with casting and character designs that really capture this specific demographic, with remarkable results....The sting of that longing is even sharper, though, when coupled with the general malaise of being a teenager, all hope for the future and despair that it will never come. There’s a real emotional core to this film. The fact that it’s also a genuine romp, packed with great jokes and breathtaking visuals? Bonus." — Liz Shannon Miller, Consequence of Sound

"The Super Mario Bros. Movie feels like a labor of love that should easily weather any nitpicking from purists....Fans will be delighted by the many Easter eggs liberally scattered throughout the proceedings — I’m sure I missed the vast majority of them, but there were plenty of appreciative laughs and cheers at the press screening — including the vocal cameos by original Mario voice performer Martinet and other game veterans." — Frank Scheck, The Hollywood Reporter

National Cinema Day is Sunday, Aug. 27 at participating theaters.