There are two kinds of people who go to the movies. The first kind go because they love the craft of filmmaking and want to become immersed in the experience the filmmaker has provided. Then there’s the other kind: the people who kick your seat, pull out their cell phones, make loud sounds with their popcorn bag, and feel the need to comment loudly at what’s happening on the screen. Suffice to say, these two kinds of people cannot exist in the same space.
Encountering that second group used to be a rare occurrence for me. I’ve been going to the cinema roughly once or twice a week for over ten years. Up to the end of 2017, I had a bad experience with other movie-goers maybe once a month. It was unfortunate, but tolerable, and certainly wouldn’t make me rethink coming back. Lately however, I would say that the ratio of good moviegoing experiences to bad has almost completely reversed. When you have people talking and pulling out their cell phones during red carpet premieres at the Toronto International Film Festival, it seems like people have forgotten how to behave in a movie theater. Even worse, when you end up asking your fellow patrons to stop talking, stop kicking your seat, or put their phone away, you’re faced with the irony of feeling like you’re the unreasonable one.
Fear not. I have prepared a quick reference guide on basic movie theater etiquette that everybody purchasing a ticket at the box office (or online) can easily adopt to make the cinema experience enjoyable for everyone.
1. Recognize That The Movie Theater Is Not Your Living Room There is a world of difference between acceptable behaviour in the comfort of your own home and acceptable behaviour in a public place. That distinction is even more prevalent in a dark theater where the feature presentation is prefaced with an announcement telling you to refrain from disrupting those around you.
2. You Can Make A Comment, But Not A Commentary Making a comment maybe once or twice during a movie is okay, because it’s not like you can’t have an opinion. But if you’re loudly interacting with your friends while the movie is playing, or giving the on screen characters advice on what to do next, you sound like a foghorn to the rest of the theater. If you want to voice your opinion, make a YouTube video.
3. Be Aware Of How Much Space Your Legs Take Up I’m a big guy. I’m aware of how small the space between theater rows can be. Yet, I can go an entire movie without once kicking the seat in front of me. Unless you have a condition where your legs randomly spasm out, sit still or take a little bit of care when you’re moving your limbs to get comfortable. It isn’t rocket science.
4. Think About Your Boss’ Reaction When Your Phone Rings During A Meeting The most considerate thing you can do before the movie is double check that your phone is on silent. Not vibrate; silent. It takes no effort, since you most definitely had your phone in your hand before you sat down. You wouldn’t want to be that person in a boardroom where your phone goes off and you’re then frantically trying to find it. Why would you want to be that person in a movie theater?
5. The World Is Not Going To End Before The Movie’s Over There is no reason to check your phone during a movie. Ever. If you want to use your phone, don’t go to the cinema. Sure, there is the risk of missing an actual emergency phone call, but when I see people pull out their phone during a movie, it’s because they’re in the middle of a WhatsApp conversation, shopping, or checking sports scores. This is really inconsiderate because that bright light distracts the other patrons, and they didn’t come here to have an eye battle between watching the projection screen or your phone screen.
6. Chew With Your Mouth Closed Remember your mother giving you this advice when you were five? It still applies when you’re 25. It amazes me how some people can chew louder than a movie explosion, and popcorn doesn’t even have that much of a crunch. However, even if people can’t see the food being broken down inside your mouth, it’s still audible. Also, sound travels.
7. If Your Drink Starts To Slurp, There’s No More Liquid Inside Ever hear someone’s refusal to believe that there is no more soda in the cup, their straw working overtime to get every ounce of watered down sugar to justify that $10 purchase? All I think about is the free refill they can get after the movie.
8. Cinema Employees Are Not Your Personal Janitors Don’t just get up and leave once the movie’s over. Take your empty wrappers, boxes, and cups with you to the garbage. Just because there is a theater cleaning crew coming in doesn’t mean it’s okay for you to give them extra work. Clean up after yourself.
I know all this sounds like basic common sense. However, until movie theater companies adopt the Alamo Drafthouse’s policy of ejecting disruptors from their premises without a refund, everyone must do their part in showing consideration for those around them. Otherwise, the advances in home theater technology, the ease of on demand streaming, and the ability to have movie theater popcorn delivered to your home will collectively convince cinephiles to stay home, and the cinema experience will be left to those uninterested in actually watching the movie.
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