If a friend far away thinks it was good enough to be worth emailing me about, I'll go see it... maybe. More likely I'll wait for dvd though, unless it's one of those obvious "must see on big screen" movies.
As far as renting movies, I used to do that based on a combination of "buzz" and recommendation, but now that I have a Netflix account, I just put anything that catches my fancy on the rental list, and wait for it to turn up in the PO Box.
i worked in a video shop briefly at uni and my flatmate was the manager of another shop.
We got all the films about a month or so before release for free! ;)
Needless to say we werent big cinema goers, but if something came out that would particullarly good on the big screen (sound track, special effects, etc) then it was a must!
I have to say Netflix is one of the best things that has come from the Internet. I have had an account since 1999 and love it. I can rent movies I don't know much about and if, after watching it for a while, I realize it sucks I can just pop it back in the mail and have a new movie in a couple days. Great service.
I usually look at actors/directors of films, generally know those who choose good scripts, actors teamed up with other actors, etc. Also look at plotline as able.
To get me out to the theater it takes either a personal recommendation from someone whose taste I hold in high regard, or an offering from a director, producer, or screenwriter that I am a fan of.
I rarely let the cast define my theater going choices as even my favorite actors have been in many a horrendous film.
Now for home viewing, I have an entirely different criteria. I'm much more likely to just rent something on a whim.
When I'm stumped for a title to rent I'll visit amazon.com and do a search for any obscure film that I've loved, and then scroll down to their user contributed "listmania" results.
It's generally fairly easy to decide whether a user has resonant tastes by the other titles in their list.
I've found many an amazing film that I've never heard of via this quirky info mining methodology.
The only problem with the ratings type sites is that the results are often skewed since most people gravitate towards voting for their favorite films. Not as many folks go out of their way to bring up the films they've hated and vote accordingly.
Download it from the Internet for free.
If its good, see it on the big screen.
A cost saving tip from Hillary Rosen and the RIAA (Restricting Innovation in America Assocation) :).
I have a friend who somehow has the exact opposite in movie taste as I do. And he goes to a lot of movies making him a great pre-screening device. So I just wait til he finds one he didn't like much and see that. Works every time.
I used to trust other peoples opinions until i figured most of their opinions were based off of other peoples. I hated asking someone and they'd tell me the same thing ebert said with his thumbs! I go see movies if im interested, and i do netflix. :P
NYTimes reviews, depending on the reviewer. They often have a deeper take on a movie, read the sub-text, that others completely miss. Like a review for Frailty. NYT liked it, most local reviewers condemned it as overly violent (Was not- all violence was OFF SCREEN).
I also cross reference with movielens [movielens.umn.edu], a site that aggregates your movie ratings and computes what you are likely to like: Fairly accurate.
There's also the IMDB.com (Internet Movie DataBase).
Many movies I wouldn't waste my time travelling and parking to go see. Just not worth it.
I LOVE going to the movies, but they cost NINE FREAKING DOLLARS, and with popcorn, you end up spending THIRTY BUCKS for two people. NO WAY. But I'll rent them for 3.50.
Of course, it's a crime to see LOTR and Star Wars movies on anything other than the big screen.
When "Empire Strikes Back" (2nd Star Wars movie) came out they wanted way too much. I haven't paid full price to see a movie since. (Typically I'll see about 1 movie a year in the theater at a matinee.) Those that I do see (theater, dvd, etc.) are on the recommendations of friends who know my tastes.
May the heavens bless with long life and many children whoever invented matinee pricing.
Our local movie theatre has five dollar Tuesdays. Five dollars whoever you, are all day. And remember that five bucks NZ is only US$2.50 :-D
The rest of the time I pay NZ$8 (US$4). Being a student has definite benefits.
Wish we had Netflix though. The local video stores are fine for new releases, but there are so many classics I have yet to see.