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Movie Watching Etiquette: At Home and in the Cinema - Part I

Updated on April 17, 2015
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Good old faithful. It might not be high-tech, but I prefer it to the big screen. At least in those days you had your own CAR, nevermind a seat.
Good old faithful. It might not be high-tech, but I prefer it to the big screen.
Good old faithful. It might not be high-tech, but I prefer it to the big screen. | Source
At least in those days you had your own CAR, nevermind a seat.
At least in those days you had your own CAR, nevermind a seat. | Source

Watching movies is one of our favourite pastimes. It’s a form of escapism that has for decades ranked up there as the best way to blow off some steam – even keeping ahead of the growing threat of video games to take the throne.

But there are many people out there who spoil movies for others, with their bad habits and inconsiderate behaviour. This is one reason why I avoid going to the movie theatre nowadays. I’d rather watch a DVD at home. That, and it’s too damn expensive to go to the theatre all the time.

And you might think that rudeness is limited to the theatre, but it can also quite easily creep in to the home too. In fact, it can be just as bad, or even worse - considering that we’re generally all more comfortable sitting in our own chairs in the living room.

By the way, here and elsewhere we call it a cinema. A "theatre" is more like the Artscape, with plays and such other things shown. I realise other names for a cinema include "movie theater" and "movie house" in the US. Look forward to some more South Africanisms and Queen's English to come.

So let’s go through a number of ways that you can annoy people while watching a movie:


Eating snacks

In the cinema you are usually required to buy your treats such as chips, popcorn, and drinks at the kiosk outside in the foyer, before going in. But people often smuggle their own goods in too – I know because I’ve done it a few times when I was younger and still went to see the big screen. Why? Simply because it’s usually cheaper to do so, and less queuing is involved.

Buckets of popcorn aren’t so bad seeing as there’s not a lot of noise besides the scraping of untrimmed fingernails at the bottom once most of the content is gone. But when you have some guy with packets and bags full of stuff like chips (crisps) and chocolate raisins and so on – there’s quite a bit of noise.

The trick with these packets, to avoid any sort of fist other than yours connecting with your jaw during the movie, is timing. Open packets and wrappers and the like when there’s a loud bit during the film. Be quick, shovel whatever it is in to your mouth, and then chew and swallow before the the loud bit is over. Gunfights and shouting, or both, would be ideal times to do this.

But I’m here to tell you that you should rather not use bags or anything plastic. Use a cardboard or plastic container like the ones they give you at the kiosk, and not at the convenience store – bonus points to you if you can get a hold of a container with that particular theatre’s branding on it, so as to make your smuggling a little less suspicious. Either that, or use a bowl, or even serviettes to wrap your chocolate in and so on, if you don’t want to get messy.

Also, get your snacks before you sit down. Don’t get up halfway through the film to do that sort of thing. If you’re at home, it’s not as bad, because if you are watching a DVD with friends or family, you can at least all agree to take a break halfway through.

Have your treats and drinks by your side on a table of sorts, or keep it in your lap, rather than have it on a coffee table or even on the floor in front of you, because it can be quite annoying to keep seeing someone bending over and/or reaching forward to get things throughout the film.

Sit down or walk away

I personally hate it when people walk in to the room and then proceed to stand there watching the film. They either lean up against the wall, or a chair, or just hover – I especially hate it when they sway from side to side like a bloody tree or something. It’s annoying because this figure is always in the corner of your eye – in your peripheral vision – and you always notice it no matter how hard you try to ignore it. You have to acknowledge it.

Then you have to end up closing one of your eyes just so you can watch the film without having to see this person. But doing this for a prolonged period of time is harder than you think if you’re not trying to sleep or lying down at least. So then you might have a cap, and you pull it to one side so that the peak blocks out the image of that person. The only thing is that this might trigger off a response from them, and they get pissed off – not stopping to think that they’ve been pissing you off the whole time.

And then that person leaves, to your relief - only to return five or ten minutes later and you have to repeat the process again, and again, and again.

Oh, and sitting on the arm of the chair, or kneeling on the floor, is also annoying. Sit down or leave the room, please.

Commit to the film

Do your research about a film before committing to watching it, at least. Learn who stars in it, what it’s about without spoiling it for yourself, and read the reviews to see how well it did among critics. Yes, I know that they say “the only opinion that matters is your own”, but to me, that doesn’t always apply – particularly with films. I read the reviews, and anything under 3 stars I don’t bother with, when it comes to hiring a DVD. 3 stars is “good”, by the way. Under that, is usually rubbish. I tend to trust the reviewers a lot more than some person with a lip ring at the DVD store.

You have a fifteen to thirty (maximum) minute trial period to see whether a film is worth watching before either changing the channel, or stopping the film, or walking out of the theatre. But don’t stop a film halfway through, or near the end, just because you don’t like it. The rest of us are enjoying it, thank you. Now GTFO.

Movies cost money, and I can’t tell you how much money people I know have thrown it away on hiring rubbish DVDs, and even BUYING rubbish DVDs. Look the film up, like I said, and do your research. If it’s a rubbish film according to at least half the people out there, then don’t hire it or buy it. Rather wait until it screens on regular TV, or satellite. If it’s a must-see, then hire it, or go to the cinema. Only buy a DVD if you’ve seen a film, and want to keep it forever and ever, to watch whenever you want.

Asking questions during the film

If it’s one thing I hate during a film, it’s when people start asking questions. It can be about the plot, the characters, or how long the film goes on – but all variations are annoying.

If someone gets shot about five times and falls down, somebody in the audience is bound to say, “Is he dead?!”

What do you think? If he isn't dead, he’s surely dying!

Just keep quiet and focus on the film; concentrate and you might understand what’s going on. Some films are straight forward and require little thinking on your part. Others are quite cerebral and complex – and I personally like these films. If you don’t possess the intelligence necessary or find things to be too confusing, then please just wait until after the film, then ask your questions. And if nobody else knows what the hell was going on, then just look it up online. There are plenty of those with nothing else to do who like to over-analyze scenes from movies like Inception and the like there.

Hey, look! It's... *shhhh!*
Hey, look! It's... *shhhh!* | Source

Pointing out actors

I also dislike it when somebody goes through the list of names at the beginning of the film, and as they crop up, he or she will say, “Oh him, yes!”, “Yes I know him!”, “Ah, I remember him!”

And what’s even worse is when the names don’t crop up. Then it’s a big surprise when an actor appears during the film. “What? I don’t believe it!”, “Look, it’s so-and-so!”, “Unreal!”

You think after seeing the actor’s name on the poster outside in the foyer of the theatre, or on the cover of the DVD case, they’d be satisfied. That’s the reason they went to see the film in the first place, isn’t it? Because Justin Bieber made a cameo appearance in it or something.

Please, just find out who stars in the film, and then rush about it before watching. Then when you do, STFU. Do not read out actors’ names. We can see and read and don’t need you to help us. Don’t, in the middle of the film, start recognising and pointing out actors who you may or may not have seen. Also, do not call out an actor’s name if you’re not sure if it is him or her or not. Because this will turn in to a debate or even an argument, and make you look even stupider.

The same goes for an animated film where an actor does the voice-over. Don’t spend half the film saying “It sounds like him” or “I’m sure it’s him”. Well, it probably is - and leave it at that.

Wait until the credits roll so you can have your questions answered, and then you can sit and chat to yourself while everyone else leaves – because honestly, who reads the credits anyway? Most people only stay seated once a film is over, so they avoid being trampled by those eager to take a leak after having been seated for two hours sipping on a soft drink the whole time.

"Don’t repeat a one-liner or comment that you think is funny and nobody else does. They probably heard you just fine the first time, but it wasn’t funny, and you failed."


Making comments

A lot of people like one liners. It’s one of the reasons why Arnold Schwarzenegger’s career was so successful. Catch phrases like Terminator’s “I’ll be back” have been immortalised in film history for all time. It certainly wasn’t due to his acting (in)ability. Like Mohammed Ali is credited with being the forefather of rap with his clever, cheeky little rhymes in a run up to a big match, Arnold could be considered the greatest cheesy one-liner spewing action man who ever lived.

And people like to emulate that when watching films. Something happens in a film, and you can bet that somebody’s going to utter some remark, which will either result in laughter from the other people in the room, or an awkward silence, OR tuts and tsks, and possibly some shushes, too.

Your comment has to be a one-liner, as in one sentence, or even just one word. Don’t try to make it too complicated, so it detracts from the experience. The best time to say a one-liner, is when there’s a silence during the film or when it switches scenes. But it has to be within a few seconds. A one-liner is also called a “quip”: "That's why they call it a quip. Not a slowp.'' (Shallow Hal). Waiting more than a few seconds is too long, and there will be a new scene on the screen, and so it won’t make sense to anyone. People’s attention spans are naturally quite short, and our memories generally are, too – particularly when we’re trying to focus on more than one thing at a time.

One-liners in a cinema are usually not tolerated, but one-liners in a room with family and friends are generally accepted as long as they follow the rules outlined above. Oh, and don’t repeat a one-liner or comment that you think is funny and nobody else does. They probably heard you just fine the first time, but it wasn’t funny, and you failed.

One last no-no, and that is swearing at the screen and the likes. Don’t shout things like “Kick him in the nuts!” or “Don’t argue, just shoot him!”. Are you the director? Did you help make the film? No, you’re the ill-tempered lout spoiling the film for the rest of us, is all. The actors on screen can’t hear you, so don’t bother wasting your bad breath. And as for swearing - you should know by now that just reveals a severe lack of vocabulary.

This is why YouTube and other streaming video sites are such a phenomenon online. You can watch a clip in silence without anyone making wise-cracks, and once you’re finished, you can deign to look through the comments if you wish to see if there’s anything witty or worthwhile. There usually isn’t; it’s about the same ratio of sheer stupidity to wit as you’d expect to find out in the real world - but at least you don’t have to hear it all the time.


Giving away the plot

As much as you’d like to appear as the know-it-all wise sage during a film, who magically knows everything that happens (because you’ve seen it ten times), don’t try to spoil it for others by revealing things and the like. Let them discover for themselves.

Likewise, if you know that the person sitting next to you has seen the film, don’t keep asking them about what happens next. Just watch and listen, and you might learn something.

And whatever you do, if you know everything that takes place in the film, then don’t try to advertise your abilities as a psychic for hire, or some mystical Jedi, and pass it off as a supernatural gift. We know you saw it countless times before, and we also know you’re full of it (hint: not midi-chlorians).

Laughing during a film

Laughing during a film is inevitable. It will happen. There will be points during a movie where something extremely amusing takes place and everyone laughs, and then there are places where only a few people will laugh. It’s a proven fact that in a large audience, you are more likely to laugh than when you’re on your own.

But knowing when to laugh is like knowing when to clap: it can be difficult to determine at times.

I’ve heard that people don’t want to work that hard. They want to be told when to laugh, and not guess. But in most cinemas, there’s no prompter that says “applause”, or “laugh”, and “stop laughing now, please”. But it would make it a lot easier, I can tell you. Maybe they could have subtitles on the screen at the bottom or something, e.g. (LOL), or (ROTFL). Hey, if this idea catches on, I’m taking credit for it.

This is why laugh tracks are so popular when it comes to TV sitcoms and the like. And series that don’t have them… usually fail. Although some of them do succeed, and I often consider them to appeal to a more sophisticated, intelligent audience that actually knows what sarcasm and other figures of speech are.

In the cinema, it is acceptable to laugh when everyone else laughs. And you must stop when they stop. Carrying on for longer than that will make people actively search for the idiot who kept laughing for longer than the allocated time, followed by glares and maybe even a few tuts or tsks, once again. It’s usually girls who make this mistake, as they can’t stop giggling most of the time – and they’re probably not even giggling at the film either. Not even god knows what they’re cackling at - probably because, as we all know, little girls are the devil.

And this will also happen to if you laugh and nobody else laughs with you. There’s that awkward silence that follows, with people looking at each other with puzzled expressions and shrugs. It also helps to develop a good laugh. Don’t have an annoying laugh if you can help it, or even a forced laugh – this is what we in SA call a k*k lag (cr*p laugh) and people can usually spot it a mile away. For example, James May from Top Gear has one of the worst I've ever heard (and seen).

When a group in a cinema laughs, or when a group at home laughs, try to join in at the same time. People tend to scan the room to make sure that everyone else is laughing, and if you don’t join in, people will think you’re a humourless shrew, and that glare is sure to follow again, accompanied by people pointing at the charity case in question (you).

Volume on the TV

During a regular TV show, you’ll more than likely have ads and trailers and whatnot that come up periodically throughout the show – naturally these ads are paid for and help the broadcaster stay in business. If it were all for free, it would flop.

Now I might be able to tolerate an advert no matter how goofy it is, even if they do crop up and steal about 1/3 of the show’s airtime. But what I dislike is when someone refuses to turn down the volume when the ads are showing. Why this is, is because they’re so loud in comparison to the TV show itself most of the time.

This is what the mute button was invented for. When a commercial comes on the screen, turn down the volume, or put the mute button on.

And another thing I want to take issue with is the volume on the TV during a show. I can’t take it when someone has to have the volume up all the way while watching. I usually leave the room because otherwise my ears start hurting. If you have such a hard time hearing the TV, then consider buying a hearing aid or putting in earphones while watching the TV on your own, or enabling subtitles. I don’t like to hear the TV blaring loudly, even when I’m not in the room – but especially when I am.


In the old days, we had intermission. Part way through the film at a theatre, there was a short break, and you could go to the toilet, have a snack, take a smoke – anything you wanted. Nowadays, the cinema doesn’t really offer this as a feature. The film keeps playing, regardless of how many people leave to do something else.

But at home it’s different, sometimes. The rule is that you don’t pause the film just for one person if they go somewhere. Intermission is an agreed point halfway through the film or so, where everyone decides they want a break, and the film is paused, to be resumed once intermission is over.


Speaking of which, this is the end of part I in this series. You should be able to find a navigation button here somewhere near the bottom which will send you to part II.

Enjoy the break.

What's the most annoying thing to you listed here?

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© 2011 Anti-Valentine


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    • Anti-Valentine profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago from My lair

      Thank you. I like that you think it's classy. I guess it is, in a way.

    • jamesjacques profile image


      9 years ago from Seattle

      classy article, very funny and truthful.


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