Movie Theater Etiquette: A Relic of the Past?

Movie Theater Etiquette: A Relic of the Past?

movie-theater-popcornMuch like table manners or the alphabet I always thought that movie going etiquette was just something you learned early on in life. It seems logical that in a dark room designed for only one purpose there would be a few rules and these rules are meant to be followed. Nevertheless, just as people will man handle their steak knives, smack their lips and bite their fork they will occasionally trample over your movie going experience.

Unfortunately, many of us are all too familiar with this brand of people and a few of us have encountered even the rare ones. Such as the guy who kicks off his shoes and socks only to casually prop his feet up mere inches away from your face, long toenails and all. Or the ones who poop themselves and leave in a panic (I guess that’s really their movie going experience that is ruined but I digress.) Creating a complete list could take a lifetime but here are a few that appear more often than not.


This is an obvious choice, but exactly what type of talkers am I referring to? There are all makes and models and a casual comment to your buddy is not grounds for a firing squad. Personally, I’m mainly concerned with the ones that won’t shut the hell up whether it’s whispers or a shout you can always hear them. We have all had this experience and if you’re reading this wondering what on earth I’m talking about it’s probably you I’m writing about. In a sense I am jealous of people that have the audacity to talk throughout a nearly two-hour movie. In their minds the concept of respecting the unspoken promise we all made to sit back quietly and enjoy the show does not compute.

Suddenly the theater becomes their living room when the lights go down and they’ve ridden the Regal movie coaster. If I went through life completely unaware of what a pest I was being I’m sure I’d have no qualms either, it’d be pure bliss. Why not tell them to be quiet you ask? Well there can be a variety of reasons. Maybe it’s a person you shouldn’t mess with for fear of physical assault or verbal whiplash. Then there are times you do ask and it falls on deaf ears. Whatever the case may be if you must talk then get your hot breath right up on the ear of the person next to you and make it snappy. They may not appreciate it but the rest of us will love you or not even notice you, which is the way it should be.

A sub category of talkers is a bad case of captain obvious. I understand if you are a think out loud type of person but I’m not asking you to suppress that forever. The average movie is two hours at most and I can gather who is who and read all the text that appears on screen without your verbal guidance. You don’t think the lead actress in a horror movie shouldn’t open the door? Well neither do I but I have that conversation in my head. If you want a prime example of this go see Trouble With the Curve, because it must be something in the water those Eastwood fans are drinking but they sure do love to narrate.


tissue-boxEver had a Sniffles Magee within your space bubble at the theater? You’d know if you did because they make it abundantly clear. If you have a cold, bring some tissues or better yet rest up and catch a showing the next day. It becomes very distracting when you can pick up on the sniffle pattern of the person two seats down from you. Two small ones and then the big snot clearing, nose vibrating, shakes the body type production. Having seen The Social Network in the deep dark period of a common cold I vowed never to subject another theater to that again. Need I get started on coughs? If Ludens ain’t doing the trick I don’t think a room that expects silence is going to help either.

Durian Fruit

I’m not referring to people but rather the food individuals decide is good for movie theater snacking. Hey, I get it. Movie theater food is far too expensive, especially for the quality you’re getting. However, that does not mean I want you to bring in your Sun Chips with their new and improved bags that rival the volume of car alarms. By all means keep sneaking in those healthy snacks catered to your new diet but leave the durian at the door. I sat through a screening of 50/50 while a group of friends brought in their chowder, fish & chips and garlic fries. What are we doing here people?

This is the same equivalent as Joe Cool boarding the plane with stinky cheese he acquired on vacation and popping a squat right next to you. I grew up with a father that would sneak Subway sandwiches into the movie theater. He would get half while my brother, sister and I got 1/3 of a half. Sounds fair. What I’m saying is that I understand the urge and even have one of these people in my family. Still, popcorn already presents the challenge of loud chewers not to mention those bag shakers. You’d think they were prepping a Shake ‘n Bake the way they toss it around to find the perfect piece. In short, why make things worse?


This seems to be a growing phenomenon not only in movie theaters but also in any situation where people are presented with a large room and too many seat options. In college during a large lecture class (200-300 seats) I would often be baffled by people that chose out of ALL the seats still available, the one directly next to me. Call me anti-social but when you can give someone a little space, particularly when focus is mandatory go right on ahead an give it to them.

You know this person. They walk in and stand at the bottom of the theater staring at countless empty seats. Then meander a bit, up and down the aisles. At first they seem to be entertaining the idea of a seat two rows ahead of you. Then suddenly a move is made…they creep to your row and start moving in. Then it’s too late. In a theater with stadium seating this is even more frustrating. It’s hard to find a “bad” seat in those theaters. However, if you’re at an old theater the issue of a giant head blocking over half the screen still remains. Without stadium seating you may get a free pass but as much as I love meeting new people (laugh it up) I don’t go to the movies to socialize or feel claustrophobic.


A close cousin to the aforementioned space bubble poppers are the ones that invade not by sitting too close but by kicking or pushing your chair. This can either be a constant kick or every time they adjust themselves your seat becomes a rocking chair. These strike me as the same kind of people that while on a plane push their seat in front of you all the way back until your tray becomes unusable. Their naptime becomes your naptime. All I’m asking is to just be aware of where your footsies land on the chair in front of you. Each kick and push is somehow amplified in those theater chairs.


There is no problem with heading to the restroom in the middle of a movie. That is your prerogative to possibly miss something. However, I have to say that there are a few exceptions. I attended an opening day showing of Transformers: Dark of the Moon in IMAX 3D with a relative of mine. This person knew what he was in for: the movie was two and a half hours, the show was sold out and people were pumped.

We snatched up the middle seats in the middle row, the perfect combination. The theater didn’t have an empty seat when showtime rolled around. Anybody who has been to an IMAX show knows those rows are longer than a standard Regal or AMC. Halfway through the movie he needed a pee break. Again, this was his choice (although if you are going to miss any part of a movie for pee it might as well be a Michael Bay production.) His departure and return was met with grumbles and quite a few who thought he was joking.

Is it wrong what he did? Technically no. Nature calls and that’s that. But be aware of what you’re getting into. Don’t drink a mondo size Cherry Coke thirty minutes prior to an IMAX screening, not go pee and sit smack dab in the middle of everybody. That’s just rude. When he sat back down he seemed shocked and awed that people had reservations about his bold choice. Naturally, I pretended like I didn’t know him.


It seems too much to ask these days to have people just tuck their phones away for the duration of a movie. They must tweet, update and post. It’s the society we have shaped and in a world where wristwatches have gone by the wayside it’s no wonder people feel comfortable checking the time with their phone. Even so, the light on your phone is not as dim as you’d like to believe, even when you select the lowest setting. There is a reason professors have laptop students sit in the back of the class, individual screens act as a distraction.

This is part of a growing problem where people don’t experience things in real time but rather through their phone. Don’t willing enter a theater if you know not responding for a few hours to texts or calls is not an option for you. Get on that Netflix DVD plan while it’s still around and see the movie in a few months or better yet stream it. With the growing trend of releasing movies on demand and in theaters at the same time there is really no excuse for this behavior. If you must text or check your Facebook find the seat in the corner of the theater far away from civilization.

Is all this commentary pretentious and harsh? Perhaps, but most of us can admit that at least one of these types of people have disrupted a movie going experience in our lives. I’ll never give up going to the movies because it is still incredibly enjoyable despite some of the setbacks so that argument won’t work. Some movies can’t be experienced properly unless you have the full experience of the movie theater with them. Paranormal Activity or Silent House don’t have the same effect on a small T.V. in a crowded house. Even then, sometimes an older couple out for the night that can’t help but comment is endearing, it just all depends.

I was in an astronomy class in college that visited the planetarium a handful of times. The teacher would always ask everybody to put their cell phones away for a mere 20 minutes while the room went dark and the stars appeared above. Five minutes in a girl across from me had to check her texts and continued to keep doing so. These bad habits can be found all over. I’ve learned over the years it’s nearly impossible to break somebody of his or her bad manners in the theater or similar setting but that doesn’t mean we should stop trying.