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Proper Movie Theater Etiquette

Updated on July 26, 2011

We are deep into the summer movie season and chances are you’ve taken time out of your busy schedule to relax in a nice air-conditioned theater for some film-going escapism. However, you also have to remember that you are in a public place surrounded by people who also paid money to enjoy the film. Not every theater outing ends in inconvenience, but certainly you’ve had to endure some type of annoyance. The following a little guideline to follow next time you’re out to a theater. If you respect others, others will respect you.

Buyer Beware

You buy a ticket for a movie because you believe you may enjoy it. If it stars your favorite comedic actor or if it’s directed by one of favorite filmmakers, chances are you’ll find some enjoyment in it. But if you walk away completely dissatisfied, there’s no point in demanding your money back. The last person you should be complaining to is the theater staff. They didn’t make the movie. They’re not even profiting from the ticket sales.

Earlier this summer, a Stamford, CT art house movie theater received so many customer complaints about the Terrence Malick film “The Tree of Life” starring Brad Pitt that they posted a sign outside the ticket window:

Dear Patrons,
In response to some customer feedback and a polarized audience response from last weekend, we would like to take this opportunity to remind patrons that The Tree of Life is a uniquely visionary and deeply philosophical film from an auteur director. It does not follow a traditional, linear narrative approach to storytelling. We encourage patrons to read up on the film before choosing to see it, and for those electing to attend, please go in with an open mind and know that the Avon has a NO-REFUND policy once you have purchased a ticket to see one of our films. The Avon stands behind this ambitious work of art and other challenging films, which define us as a true art house cinema, and we hope you will expand your horizons with us.
Thank you.

In the age of the Internet and social media, theater-goers have the resources to learn more about a film without actually seeing it first. Websites like IMDb and Rotten Tomatoes comprehensively gives information about the film as well as criticism. Even if I’m pressured to attend a film with friends that received poor reviews, I’ll at least lower my expectations. If I hated it, then so be it.

A right patrons should have is the right to watch a film without technical difficulties. But you have to understand technology is not perfect. Films will break and the sound may be off. If there is a technical problem, inform a staff member. If the rest of the film cannot be played, the best the managerial staff can do is issue a free movie pass. In my brief time as a theater usher during college at an on-campus movie theater that showed second-run films, we had one incident where we received a copy of the 2005 “Syriana” but it didn’t have subtitles. For those who have seen the film know a good portion of the film features actors speaking in Arabic. When there is no translation on the bottom of the screen, then audience can’t tell what is being said. Because of this, management offered a half-off discount and made audiences aware of the problem. After a Saturday night showing, audiences were still not pleased and made the usher staff know by leaving all their garbage on the floor.

Please Be Quiet

When you’re in a crowded movie theater, there will be strangers sitting in a close proximity of you. If you feel the need to talk loudly with your buddy, they do not want to hear it. If you absolutely have to talk to the person you’re with, be aware of the amount of people around you. When it comes to chatting, I prefer whispering into their ears while not making it a long conversation. If you want to discuss the movie with your friend, you can wait until you’re walking out of the theater when it’s over.

If you find yourself hating the film, don’t bother booing. The movie execs in Hollywood won’t be able to hear you. If you find what you are seeing to be offensive or disgusting, then just get up and walk out. You don’t need to voice your objection to the rest of the audience.

Turn Off The Cell Phone

Cell phones have become a burden for theater staff now for over a decade. Please, shut your phone off or at least put it on vibrate. It’s one to have a loud, annoying ring tone go off in the middle of the movie, but don’t take it out and actually answer it and start having a conversation. Most of the time I set my phone to vibrate but if I go into a film really excited to see it, I’ll turn it off entirely so I won’t have any distractions. If I do get a call during the film and feel the need to answer it or call the person back, I will quietly excuse myself and go out to the lobby to answer it.

Unfortunately, newer generations of smart phones allow both texting and web browsing. These touch screens can get bright in a darkened theater and distracts other audience members. If you are the type of person who can’t go more than 90 minutes with texting, you may find yourself thrown out of the theater. Earlier this summer, the Alamo Drafthouse theater in Austin, TX kicked a young woman out of the theater because she was texting. They received a very harsh phone message from her but actually used it to emphasize their strict rule of no texting in a public service announcement (contains explicit language):

Soon after the PSA became a viral hit on YouTube, Tim League, the owner and founder of the Alamo Drafthouse issued a special report to CNN expanding on their strict rules to texters, screaming babies, and loud audience members.

“When you are in a cinema, you are one of many, many people in the auditorium. When the lights go dark and the movie begins, every single movie fan in the room wants to be absorbed into and get lost in the flickering images on the screen. A light from a cellphone, a screaming baby or a disruptive teen cracking jokes all pull you out of the magic of the movies. Providing an awesome experience for true movie fans is the reason we opened the first Alamo Drafthouse back in the mid-'90s, and it is the exact same philosophy we adhere to today.”

Bringing Children Isn’t Always the Best Idea

In addition to the Alamo Drafthouse’s policy on no texting, they also do not allow children under six and no unaccompanied minors. I’ll preface myself by saying I am not a parent but I am aware that some children know how to properly behave in public while others can get out of hand. If you’re going to a film that caters to a young demographic, you should expect to see plenty of kids there with their parents. Even when I attend Pixar films, which have a lot of kids to adult crossover appeal, I know to expect parents with their kids. But if your child gets upset or you see him and her acting out, please excuse them to the lobby in order to calm them down.

One of my biggest pet peeves is when parents bring young children to a film that obviously will be too scary, too violent, or have too much sexuality in it. Do you really need to bring your eight year old son to see “The Hangover Part II”? Kids shouldn’t be traumatized by what they see on screen. The MPAA does issue certain ratings for a reason. The website Kids in Mind does a terrific job of breaking down how much sex/nudity, violence, profanity, and other adult themes are in movies playing in theaters. You are certainly entitled to show your young children these movies in your own home, but it just makes it more of an inconvenience for the rest of the theater audience.

However, there are select theaters that have “Mommy and Me” matinee shows. Parents can bring their infants to a showing of a new movie that’s more adult-oriented that they wouldn’t normally get to see unless they could hire a babysitter. Parents are in attendance with other parents in the same situation. Infants cannot comprehend what is seen on screen or at least they are in their carriage turned away. Parents can be lucky if their child ends up sleeping during their entire film. This Associated Press article written by a mother states that these matinees allow parents to reclaim part of their old life and makes them feel like a regular person again.

This guide is just a brief guideline on proper behavior when it comes to the more common annoyances inside a theater. To reiterate what was mentioned in the first paragraph, if you respect others, others will respect you. In the comments section, feel free to tell any terrible theater experiences you’ve had to endure while trying to enjoy a film you paid to go see.


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    • gryphin423 profile image

      gryphin423 6 years ago from Florida

      Awesome hub! I still can't get over when parents bring babies and young toddlers to violent movies. If they can afford the ticket they can afford a freaking babysitter!! My husband and I always discuss owning our own theater so we can activate some sort of shock via a button to people who talk, text, etc. They need a public etiquette class!

    • Painted Seahorse profile image

      Brittany Rowland 6 years ago from Woodstock, GA

      Great hub! Rude theater patrons with those obnoxiously bright cell phones are one of my greatest pet peeves! I applaud the Alamo Drafthouse for taking a stand and setting clear rules for their patrons. It's sad that people need to be reminded to be show basic courtesy to the others in the theater who paid good money to enjoy a film!

    • niquemo83 profile image

      niquemo83 6 years ago from Garland, North Carolina

      I absolutely love this hub!!!! It hit home with me because attending movies is one of my biggest hobbies. The commercial for the Alamo Drafthouse made my day. I think you just gave me an idea for my first ever hub.