I’m a movie fan. I always have been. Not only do I enjoy watching movies on DVD at home, but I’m a big fan of going to movies at theaters, too. While some folks blast the theater experience as too expensive, too grimy (or sticky), too tedious, and way too social, I revel in seeing the latest blockbusters on the big screen with all the explosions and Dolby-enhanced wooshes and grandiose, in-your-face visuals.
Granted, there’s a lot to be said for having your own home theater with a big screen in front of you, fresh popcorn beside you, and your nice, comfy couch cradling your backside while you watch giant robots battling it out to save the Earth… or Bryan Mills throat-punching the bad guys without breaking a sweat to save his abducted daughter… or Inigo Montoya finally getting his well-aged revenge on Count Rugen with the deliciously vicious line, “I want my father back, you son of a bitch!” For one thing, you can hit pause and get up to go to the bathroom and avoid missing out on a critical bit of exposition… like when the Architect explains to Neo the history of the Matrix is, how it works, and how he’s going to pick one of two doors… so when you come back from the bathroom, you don’t have an overwhelming feeling of complete and bewildering confusion about just what the hell is going on (don’t ask).
But in spite of the expense and inconvenience, I still love going to a real theater. The only things that bother me about the experience are getting there late (which means any time later than 20 minutes before the movie’s start time) and rude, inconsiderate, or oblivious people. I can generally avoid the lateness, since it’s something I can control, but controlling the people… not so much.
It’s good for me, really. Much like a vaccine, exposure to rude people helps me build up a tolerance and, eventually, an immunity to their shenanigans. While that works and holds true in the vast majority of my life, movie theater rudeness is like a viral Achilles heel for me. Inconsiderate behavior in the theater during the movie acts like a homing beacon that becomes the involuntarily focus of my aural attention to the point of causing teeth grinding, blood pressure raising, and subtle, yet uncontrollable, muscular twitching.
I’m pretty non-confrontational by nature, so it takes a lot of of steady, aggravating stabbity-stabs of inconsideration to spur me to action. During a viewing of Pixar’s Up, I actually turned around and glared at an offending woman, but the burning derision from my hate-filled, optical <airquote> lasers <airquote> was nullified by those damned, polarized 3D glasses. My sister, on the other hand, can effortlessly turn around and issue a withering statement like, “Excuse me, but we are not in your living room!”… while her husband winces and sinks lower into his seat.
So, in the grand tradition of non-confrontational cowardice, I hereby offer my rules for acceptable movie theater etiquette from the safety and comfort of the internet.
- When the movie starts, shut the hell up.
This one should go without saying, but somehow, it doesn’t. Despite the “Please be quiet and courteous” messages on the screen prior to the movie, it seems like the worst and most common offense is talking, sometimes loudly and inappropriately, during the movie. Though I’m a big fan of “That’s what she said” humor, it can wait until later. You and your friends giggling during the scene where young Erik Lehnsherr gets yanked away from his parents in the Nazi death camp not only ruins the mood, but it’s incredibly obnoxious.
- You can go two hours without texting or phoning someone.
I haven’t experienced anyone breaking this rule in recent memory, but I have seen someone text messages during the previews and it was very distracting… not from any click-click noises, but from the giant, illuminated spotlight that was his cell phone screen. If the audience had been comprised of people with moth-like tendencies, the text offender would have been instantly crushed. Keep the cell phones silent and pocketed.
- Snack unobtrusively.
This one is a pet peeve. Mr. Banks is standing, somber and forlorn, at the end of a large table in the stately conference room of Dawes Tomes Mousley Grubbs Fidelity Fiduciary Bank, having just received his termination notice, complete with the destruction of his hat and umbrella. He vainly struggles to produce the appropriately dignified response, but is suddenly interrupted by the loud crackling of cellophane wrap, the shaking of popcorn tubs, and the watery gurgle of oblivious soda suckers. Mood… ruined. If you need to dig through your popcorn tub or unwrap your Cookie Dough Bites, wait until there’s loud music or laughter… or at least a non-dramatic scene. It’s really not hard to do.
- Teach your kids acceptable behavior before the movie.
This one is tough, especially considering that the biggest offenders probably aren’t aware of what constitutes acceptable movie behavior. Before you hit the theater with your children, make sure they know to be quiet, sit still, and watch the movie. Let them know what to expect and let them know that if they don’t follow the rules, they will be removed… then remove them if they don’t. It’s better that your movie experience is ruined than it is for you to let your child ruin the movie experience for everyone in the theater.
- Make sure your kids are old enough to understand the movie.
This one is a quick tip. If you find that you need to constantly explain to your child what is happening in the movie, he’s too young to be at the theater watching that movie… and you’re violating rule number one. Leave the theater and wait for the DVD… and next time, don’t bring your 8-year-old to an R-rated horror movie like Blade 2.
- Pack out your trash.
This always amazes me, but no longer surprises me. I walk into the theater and usually have my choice of seats (since I get there 20 minutes early). All the seats are up, the aisles are clear, and the cup holders are empty. After the movie, my seat is up, the aisle by my seat is clear, and my cup holder is empty. Looking around, however, I see snack boxes on the floor, half-empty sodas in the cup holders, and trash thrown everywhere as if the theater is a bussed restaurant… or a giant trash can. Take out your own trash. If you spill some popcorn, so be it. Accidents happen. But don’t leave your popcorn tubs and candy wrappers lying around for the cleanup crew. If you can’t stomach the intense, manual labor involved in carrying your trash down the aisle to the waiting trash bin (since it presumably exhausted you to carry them into the theater when they were full), perhaps you should leave a tip to the cleanup crew for taking care of your slovenliness.
- Be nice.
This one is basically a catch-all rule. Show some courtesy and respect for people. Keep in mind that you’re not the only person who has come to the theater to enjoy a movie. There’s an entire theater of people who, even if they don’t say it directly to you, appreciate when you show enough consideration to let them enjoy the movie as much as you do.
People go to the movies as an escape… to revel in a grand form of entertainment that can make them laugh and cry, fill them with apprehension and glee, anger them and fill them with joy. They want the movie to take them away to a land of make-believe, where the good guys are always just a little bit quicker and the bad guys get covered in manure, where the picture-perfect couple tries to kill each other, but eventually teams up to defeat the mutual bad guys, and where the hero is smart enough to figure out the clues, outwit the Nazis, shut his eyes when appropriate, and still get the girl.
Seeing theatrical escapades on the big screen in a big theater with big sound still remains a terrific experience for me. Despite a few bad experiences with inconsiderate, oblivious movie-goers, I find the vast majority of the time I go to the theater, everyone is well-behaved, courteous (mostly), and respectful. If I’m looking to find something to warrant a complaint, I can always find it, but that’s not my outlook. It’s really only the blatant offenders that aggravate me… the ones who narrate the movie for their 3-year-old or exposit (in conversational volume) their views on each scene as it unfolds or decide that the best time to rip the cellophane off their Junior Mints is right after the old man’s wife dies and he’s staring, heartbroken, at her picture.
It takes just a minimal effort to show the consideration necessary to ensure everyone has a good time at the movies. It’s not difficult. It’s not confusing. It’s not physically demanding. But it is important.
…because we are not in your living room!* It’s a movie quote.