Here are a few ways to cut costs and keep some of your hard-earned dollars out of the box office till.

NEW YORK (MainStreet) -- Summer movie season doesn't care that summer's still more than a month away and Memorial Day still a few days away: Theaters want your money and want it now.

Moviegoers already decided it's summer blockbuster season and have parted with more than $1 billion to see men (and Scarlett Johanssen) in costume fight each other and computer-generated bad guys. The Avengers was just the beginning, considering we're not even close to the release dates for new Batman and Spider-Man films. There are still a few ways to cut movie costs and keep some of your hard-earned dollars out of the box office till.

Comic book heroes, Pixar(:DIS) characters and a slew of sequels all want what's in your wallet this summer, but there's no need to hand over everything you have. This is a business, not a mugging, and the customer still has a choice regardless of what the faceless drones at the studios believe. If they want you to shell out for their big-money content after months of 3-D retreads and busts such as John Carter, they'll have to do it on your terms. Here are a few ways to cut costs and keep some of your hard-earned dollars out of the box office till:

1. Go bargain hunting
If your parents didn't teach you to shop sales or buy by unit price, now is the time to learn.

The National Association of Theater Owners pegged the average price of a movie ticket at $7.93 last year. A $34.99 four-pack of tickets from Costco(:COST) may not help folks on the low end of that average, but in cities where movie prices range from $11 to $13 a ticket, those $8.75 tickets to Regal(:RGC), Cinemark(:CNK) and AMC Theatres are basically all-day matinees. BJ's Wholesale Club offers the same four-pack deal, but only for AMC theaters.

2. Go early
The early bird special doesn't apply only to the socks-and-sandals crowd at the local buffet.

AMC theaters have an early bird special of their own for the first show of the day before 11 a.m. Shows start as early as 10 a.m., and seeing a summer blockbuster by noon has far greater rewards than just saving the rest of your day: Those early tickets are only $6 a pop, which is about half price in some markets.

3. Go off-peak
Ever go to a movie on a Monday? It's what moviegoing must be like for apocalypse survivors.

No lines, no waiting and nobody sitting within 10 seats of you. It's a big reason independent theaters hold special events early in the week, but it's also a great way to shake off a particularly miserable Monday at the workplace. If that doesn't fit your schedule, Tuesdays work just as well. Regal theaters not only know this, but will offer you $2 popcorn and drinks to sweeten the deal.

4. Go mobile
With all the online ticket buying options available, only service charges should compel frugal buyers into waiting on line at the box office.

Comcast(:CMCSA)-owned Fandango's free mobile app chips away even at that argument. If you're cool with service charges, the Fandango app not only lets you buy tickets, but serves as a mobile ticket in some markets. If you're averse to paying more for already costly tickets, the app lets you know if there's a cheaper matinee available and, if so, how many tickets for it have already been sold. It's a good way to avoid crowds and costs without expending much energy.

5. Go all-in
Rewards programs help make the expensive and unpleasant task of flying a bit bearable. Why shouldn't it do the same for summer movie screenings?

If you're going to spend a premium to see first-run films anyway, you may as well make it pay. AMC and Regal have rewards programs that offer customers perks for the purchases. Regal's Crown Club gives away free popcorn for every $50 customers spend, but holds out until they spend $300 to give them a free ticket. AMC's Stubs program is a bit more generous, parting with $10 for every $100 spent and sparing customers online convenience fees. The catch? Stubs users pay $12 upfront.

6. Go social
Theater chains aren't opposed to giving away release information and popcorn on their Twitter and Facebook accounts. They're just trying to build a following like everybody else, and all those likes can add up.

Carmike(:CKRC) and Regal cinemas have each given their social networking customers free concessions in the past, while 7-Eleven partnered with Foursquare on a movie ticket giveaway last summer. Meanwhile, if you're not totally over flash sales, Groupon(:GRPN) still offers the occasional $4 movie ticket deal, while Living Social has offered pairs of tickets for $9.

7. Go on the open road
Moviegoers who haven't needed a TripTik since the dawn of GPS have another reason to join AAA.

Auto club members can get tickets to Regal Cinemas for $8 a pop at their regional offices. Yes, that's higher than the national average, but if you're living in New York and paying about $5 above the national average for tickets, that's about a $5 discount, isn't it. It's not a great reason to sign up for AAA on its own, but when your car battery dies on street sweeping day, those AAA services can come in handy.

8. Go plastic
Movie tickets are one of those relatively inexpensive throw-ins credit card companies just love.

Visa(:V) Signature, for example, offers customers two-for-one tickets through Fandango for Friday showings. American Express(:AXP), meanwhile, will simply hold free showings for its customers and offer pairs of passes to cardholders who pay attention to their rewards updates. This year alone, Amex has given cardholders freebie showings of The Lorax and American Reunion.

9. Go with a gift card
Is it still a "gift" if you're giving the card to yourself?

Let's argue that it is. That being the case, discount gift card sites such as GiftCardGranny and PlasticJungle often offer gift cards from theater chains for as much as a third less than their face value. GiftCardGranny, for example, has offered a $100 AMC gift card for $77 (23% off) and a $25 card for $15 (40% off).

10. Go to a drive-in
They're a lot tougher to find these days, but moviegoers near one can get their personal space and low prices they can't find at their local theater.

The Warwick Drive-In in Warwick, N.Y., for example, is about an hour from New York City and charges $9 per adult. For that price, theatergoers get to enjoy the film from the comfort of their own car and get two films for the price of one.

-- Written by Jason Notte in Boston.

>To contact the writer of this article, click here: Jason Notte.

>To follow the writer on Twitter, go to http://twitter.com/notteham.

>To submit a news tip, send an email to: tips@thestreet.com.

RELATED STORIES:
>>10 Great Convertibles For Summer 2012
>>10 Best Cars For Spring Sightseeing
>>10 Used Cars To Check Out Before Buying New