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How Not To Be A Jerk At The Movies, In Nine Easy Rules
There's still nothing that unites us and brings us together more than going to the movies. Sure, we enjoy sitting at home and binge-watching Netflix, but this year we still hit up the multiplex en masse. Cinema ain't dead yet, baby.
Because of this common passion we share, we run into and sit next to each other on a regular basis every weekend. Here's how not to be a bad person at the movies.
1. Don't talk during the movie. These first two rules are going to be no-brainers, but it's really amazing how often they get broken. Don't talk during the movie. The minute the studio logos appear on the screen you should not be speaking. It's that easy. It doesn't matter if it's just the score or if it's just the credits—the movie has officially started. Whispering no more than a brief sentence or two to your companion once or twice during the film is tolerable, but bear in mind that any disturbance is immediately noticeable and obnoxious (this applies to the majority of the rest of this list, by the way). No matter how softly you think you're whispering, most people immediately around you will hear it, and the sibilance only makes it worse. Save your thoughts for after the movie. Seriously, don't talk during the movie.
2. For the love of God, don't use your phone either. Movie theaters are dark environments, and the unearthly glow of your phone's screen immediately draws attention to itself. Like thoughts you want to share with your friends, save the texting for afterwards. Put your phone on silent and tuck it away in your pocket or purse where it won't be noticed when an alert pops up. (Vibrate is fine—sometimes they're very loud, but it's understandable if you need it.) That said, if you brazenly use your phone during a movie in plain sight, you're a bad person.
There's also a special place in hell for people who take pictures or videos of the screen during the movie. Amazingly, I've seen this happen at multiple screenings. During a screening of Singin' In The Rain the person in front of me was recording the titular song-and-dance number. There's no way your video is as good as this 1080p clip I found on YouTube. Come on.
3. Show up on time. This is an underappreciated rule that more people should follow. It's very annoying to have to scoot out of the way of a group of people walking down your row to their seats once the movie has already gotten underway, and if they're too slow it can interrupt your already in-progress movie. If the movie has already started and you're at a theater without assigned seating, be a good neighbor and take seats with the least amount of interference. You've given up your rights to the center seats.
For all the faults of the ArcLight Theatre (the overpriced tickets, terrible parking lot), one thing they get right is their policy of not letting anyone in after the movie has started. More theaters should adopt this rule.
4. You're allowed to save one seat for a friend. Two is really stretching it, and would really depend on how crowded the theater already is. While I would normally advocate a first-come-first-serve rule, it's understandable if your companion is in the bathroom or at the concession stand. It's not kosher to save a seat for someone who isn't already there and running late, but since that's unenforceable we'll just have to allow it. Mark your saved seat with a hat or jacket.
5. Relatedly, avoid asking people to change seats to accommodate your party. Finders keepers, and everybody has their own preference for sitting in a movie theater. But if you can scoot over a seat or two (to accommodate fellow patrons who made the choice of showing up later than you) without much detriment to your own viewing experience, then you can play nice and move. It's up to you, though.
*crunch* (Photo via the Creative Commons)
6. Don't be a loud eater. Avoid loud, crunchy foods like nachos or apples and open your candy containers before the movie has started to avoid making noise during the program. And if you sneak in food—no judgment there, the concession stand is a rip-off—don't bring it in a grocery store plastic bag. Fewer things are more disruptive during a movie than someone digging through a bag for their lunch. Also, make sure it doesn't emit a noxious odor. Plenty of takeout options will ruin the entire theater once they're cracked open.
7. Don't go to the movies if you're sick. The only time when Netflix > going to the movies.
8. Bring kids to age-appropriate movies with age-appropriate audiences. Avoid bringing babies to the movies. They cry, you might have to get up and change their diaper, and they're not going to remember any of it anyway. If you do bring a baby, be courteous and sit on the sides or the front, which will allow for you to easily exit when the baby does start crying. And bear in mind what movie you're bringing the baby to, as well. Having a kid crying during a Will Ferrell movie is not nearly as bad as having it cry during, say, Moonlight. Some theaters do baby-friendly matinee screenings, like Pacific Theatres' Mommy and Me screenings.
For older children, bear in mind that they'll definitely talk through the movie and want to go to the bathroom constantly. That's fine, and adults in the audience have to just endure that if they want to see the latest Disney movie. Hey, you were once a kid, too.
As far as what's "age-appropriate?" That's tough. The MPAA's rating system is totally broken, and ultimately it should be up to the parents to decide what's age-appropriate for their own kids. But as a general rule of thumb it's probably safe to say kids 8 and under shouldn't be at a PG-13 movie, and no one that hasn't hit puberty yet should see an R-rated film.
9. Respect the movie. This is a delicate, complex subject, so I'll try not to be as blunt as declaring "stop laughing at old movies, you $@%&ing hipsters."
This rule is mostly applicable to older films you'd normally encounter at repertory screenings (of which there are always plenty in L.A.). Older films can seem jarring when taken out of their historical context, even if they made total sense at the time. Styles of acting change, visuals and special effects get better, and even the way they speak is different. It's fine to chuckle or even laugh at these differences (it's hard not to sometimes, especially when the acting can be unnaturally melodramatic), but at the very least be mindful that not everyone there will find the same thing funny, and they might even be there to watch the film without people cackling at it. Besides, if you're the only person laughing, maybe the problem is you?
Of course this rule is definitely looser when the film warrants it. Disreputable 'grindhouse' fare—like the stuff The New Beverly regularly screens or the stranger stuff at Cinefamily—will elicit an appropriate response from people there to revel in silliness and insanity. But please, don't laugh like a jerk when the film or the audience doesn't deserve it—no one's there to hear you.