How Not To Be A Dick At The Movies

I don’t know why, but something about bad behavior in a movie theater turns me into Michael Douglas in “Falling Down.”
Publish date:
January 24, 2014
movies, how not to be a dick, movie theaters

You can cut me in line at Starbucks and order six venti non-fat, half-caff, extra-hot, extra-foamy caramel macchiatos with two Splendas and three shots each, and I’ll get over it sooner than if your phone lights up during a movie.

I don’t know why, but something about bad behavior in a movie theater turns me into Michael Douglas in “Falling Down.” If you talk or text or check your Facebook or kick my seat -– if your baby so much as gurgles during a non-kids’ movie –- my insides broil from hot rage.

Never mind that tickets are $15 each; I just love seeing movies in the theater.

It’s the same magic that made old-timey movie-goers leap from their seats the first time they saw the arrival of a train on the big screen. It’s why kids in the 1940s begged their parents for 15 cents to go to the pictures all day rather than play outside. It’s that moment when the lights dim and the screen widens and for two hours you’re riding on a lifeboat with a ration of biscuits and a tiger named Richard Parker and believing that the imagination is where you want to spend the rest of your life. It’s why you’re ruining everything.

Since I am obviously nuts, I do whatever is possible to cut down the odds of someone spoiling a movie for me. I go during off-times, I patronize theaters with assigned seats, I avoid movies that attract teenagers and, in many cases, I go alone. I know what you’re thinking -– "As if anyone would want to go to the movies with you." And you’re right!

Besides the obvious offenses (for instance, unless your name is Fred Willard, lewd behavior in a movie theater is completely unforgivable), I have compiled a list of how not to ruin a movie -– because some of us in the theater really, really care.

Take an aisle if you get up a lot.

According to you, you have “like, the smallest bladder ever,” which is something you should already know before the movie starts. If you’re pregnant, have sciatica, use a cane, suffer from IBS, get frequent panic attacks or need to check if the babysitter called, you should arrive early enough to claim an aisle seat.

Stuff happens and people have to get up -– we’ve all thought that the lids on our sodas were secure and then spilled 50 dollars' worth of Diet Coke in our laps -– but you know if you’re one of those people. Spare us from your whispered apologies as you creep down the row, playing kick-the-can with everyone’s popcorn.

Don't be drunk.

If you’re drunk, do you really want to see a movie? Wouldn’t you rather be at a bar? And if you’re not old enough to go to a bar, wouldn’t you rather be swigging that Hypnotiq in your friend’s rumpus room? You’re not going to watch the movie anyway.

I was drunk at the movies once. I went to the premiere of “The Perfect Storm” in Gloucester, MA, where the entire audience was drunk -– partly in memorial, partly in celebration and partly because most people in Gloucester are drunk most of the time. Strangers were passing booze down the rows of seats. I gulped peppermint schnapps handed to me by a real-life Quint and, afterward, the city descended upon the Crow’s Nest as if we had all been granted shore leave for the first time in three years.

“That movie was awwwwesome,” we all said, but who really knows? I remember a big wave and Mark Wahlberg was a ghost at the end? -– maybe?

That was an exception. It’s like they say, “When in Gloucester, do as the Gorton’s fishermen do,” but usually when a bottle clangs on the theater floor, and you and your friends snicker as it rolls down into someone’s foot, it’s totally not cool.

Don’t sneak in food.

No one ever agrees with me on this one, but until you’re sitting next to the guy with a full falafel platter on his lap and a wholesale-size squirt bottle of tahini in the cup holder, you don’t understand why we all need to follow the same rules.

I get that it’s not economically feasible for everybody to get their munch on from the concession stand without 12-month financing. The same box of Goobers in the lobby is on sale at the Walgreens on the corner of Healthy and Happy for only $.99. But here’s the thing: What if you’re buying Goobers and then you see a bag of Fritos that looks like a worthy substitute for popcorn at a fraction of the cost? Pop-corn? Corn chips? What’s the harm?

A good rule of thumb: If it’s obvious your food was not purchased at the theater, don’t eat it at the theater. Too many things can go wrong –- crinkly wrappers, earthy smells…

Or here’s another crazy idea: just don’t eat for two hours.

Off, not vibrate.

“Did you turn your phone off?” I ask my husband.

“Yes…” he says, annoyed.

Now, let’s skip ahead. Here, are we sitting in a tin can, high above the world. Planet Earth is blue and there’s nothing Sandra Bullock can do. She has all lost communication with George Clooney and stillness captures the theater as though the Goddess of Cinema herself has hit the giant pause button on humanity. People are mesmerized and everything is silent. Then. Guz-guzzzzzzzh. A text message from my mother-in-law saying, “did u like gravity?”

Seriously, turn off your phone. Even the most benign use of a phone during a movie –- checking the time -– is disruptive. You don't really need to know what time it is since you’ve already committed yourself to seeing a movie in this designated timeslot. Do you have somewhere else to be? Do you typically go to movies, knowing that halfway through, you'll have to excuse yourself and get to a meeting across town?

At a "double feature," take a bad seat.

The stars have aligned. The 1:05 showing of "The Hobbit" just ended, the 8:10 showing of the new Tyler Perry begins in 20 minutes and the usher who would otherwise be tearing your ticket has been kidnapped by the guy idling in an Astro behind the theater for the last hour. Yay! Double-feature!

I don’t care if you sneak into my movie, but you are not entitled to a good seat. Take something in the front until most of the audience is seated, and then move to the good part of the theater –- if you move at all. Oh! And this reminds me of my next point, which is…

…Don't ask people to move.

You know how it is when you and your friend arrive a little late to the movies. It happens to the best of us (well, not me). You search the dimness in desperation for two adjacent seats, and then you see two seats in the same row – except they aren’t together. It’s a good row too!

So, now you ask the couple who has arrived early and managed to get a primo row with a seat-buffer if they can “move down one.”


I saw you when you walked in. We all did. I know there are seats on either side of us. If I want to move over and offer them to you, I will. But also? I might not because this is a 3D movie and I am exactly in the middle. You will have to find another row or split up. We’re not squeezing you onto a raft to save your life. (And if you split up by your own suggestion in good faith, there is a 100% chance I will offer to move down so you can sit together.)

Don't clap for a production company in the opening credits.

It's great that your roommate is an executive assistant at Relativity Media. Nobody cares.