Movie Theater Etiquette

That movie you’ve been waiting to see is finally out. Don’t ruin it for yourself and others with bad etiquette. Follow Modern Manners Guy’s 3 tips for a successful movie theater experience.

Richie Frieman
6-minute read
Episode #216

Movie Theater Etiquette

by Richie Frieman 
I absolutely love going to the movies. Frankly, I’m so in love with going to the movies, that I’ll see any movie you like: comedy, thriller, chick flick, kids’ movie, even that foreign film with subtitles. I like the movie-going experience so much that I rank movie theater popcorn as one of my top 5 favorite foods. My first apartment after college was on the same block as a movie theater and I used to just hop in to grab a large popcorn before heading back to my place. That’s how much I love it. To me, movies are a great way to relax, hang out, and just let all your worries disappear as some big shoot em’ up action movie entertains me for two hours.

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Movie Theater Etiquette

However, sometimes that enjoyment can be crushed by any number of rude patrons who think the movie theater is everything from their personal home theater, to a fast food restaurant, or even a hotel… you know what I mean about that one, folks.

So before you pony up for a $20 box of popcorn, a $10 soda that costs only $1 at the grocery store, and cash in your paycheck to buy the overpriced ticket, check out my top 3 Quick and Dirty Tips for movie theater etiquette:

Tip #1: It’s Not a Buffet

As I said before, I love movie theater popcorn but when it comes to movie theater food, some people take their love of all that is fried, sugary, crispy, or popped, to a whole other level. Why is it that when people go to the movies, they treat it like it’s a grand buffet at a Vegas casino? They pile their plates up with so much food that you would think it’s their last meal ever. I get that you’re hungry and I’m totally on team “Movie Theater Food” but be realistic here folks. It’s not that good.

And the prices at movie theaters are so overblown, you would think the theater has a monopoly on chicken fingers and Gummy Bears. Plus, have you seen the sizes of these candy boxes? And after paying an exorbitant amount for the food, people walk into the theater with their mile high stack of junk and proceed to eat it louder and messier than the Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating contest on July 4th. Look, I’m not trying to say you shouldn’t enjoy yourself, but consider the people around you who have to smell and hear your food orgy.

The big misconception about movie theaters is that they’re big. They’re not. The screen is but, but not the seats. So every little noise, belch, ripped bag, and slurped soda echoes throughout the space. Sure the movie is loud, but it doesn’t drown out the guy next to me who is on his second round of nachos, and who is arguing with his wife about why she drank his $18 liter-sized bottle of Mountain Dew.

When you go the movies, please be realistic. Do you really need that much to eat? And I’m not just talking about dietary considerations that would give the Nutrition Diva nightmares – I mean the space! Think about that little seat you get. It doesn’t come with a table. So if you bring a giant stack of junk, you’ll have to shuffle it around your lap, bumping into the people next to you or constantly searching for it on the floor with the light of your cell phone.

So rude!

Tip #2: E.T…. No Phone Home

I talk about improper cell phone use a lot on the Modern Manners Guy web site and also on the Modern Manners Guy Facebook page. And rightfully so. In every situation – work, dating, and even at a wedding – being on your phone while others are trying to listen to or watch something important is a classic etiquette no-no.

Some people consider the movie theater to be the best place to whip out their cell phone and start talking to an old college roommate, or giving the person on the other end a play-by-play of the movie.  Trust me, no matter how softly you “think” you are whispering, it’s not softly enough. I hear every word about that fight you just had with your wife and I agree with whoever is on the other end, simply because they are not ruining my movie. In addition, the light of the cell phone can sometimes be so intense in the dark theater, that you could make your own Bat signal or notify aliens on Mars that you are ready to be abducted.

I understand that there are some calls you just have to take or texts that are so important, you have to respond asap. But what is so urgent that it needs your attention at 8 pm on a Saturday night? Okay, so maybe you hired a new babysitter for the kids and want to check in. Well, you have two options.

Option #1: Step outside and take the five seconds that is needed to make sure the kids are still alive.

Option #2: Drastically dim your phone’s screen light so that you can hardly read it but there’s just enough illumination to take care of that “urgent” text.

I’d advise the former but I’ll let you decide.

Plus, the theaters are cracking down on cell phone use as well. Just last month I went to the movies with a friend and just as he started texting, an usher (who looked like he recently graduated middle school) waved the flashlight at my friend and asked him to put it away. As a manners expert, I had to side with the prepubescent police officer and not my friend. If you get a call or text, unless it’s a real emergency, I highly recommend just waiting to respond until the whopping hour and a half movie is over.

Tip #3: Kids and Movies

I love taking my 4-year-old daughter to the movies. In fact, we make a big deal out of it and invite her friends (and their parents) along as well, just to make the outing even more special. On a side note, it’s rather funny to see four dads walk into a theater with four toddlers all wearing princess tiaras. And as I said before, I don’t care what she wants to see, or how many times we’ve watched the cartoon version – I’m just happy to be with her.  However, when you go to the movies with a child you have to realize that it’s not going to be the most relaxing of trips. (And I am referring specifically to toddlers here, assuming that most kids aged 7 and up understand the rules better).

For starters, kids ask a lot of questions. My daughter spends 20 hours a day talking and only four sleeping. And when she’s asleep, I think she spends that time thinking of new questions to ask my wife and I. “Who’s that?”… “What did she say?”… “Why is she crying?”… Whatever the movie, she has questions about it. But it’s understandable and expected. So I answer but also remind her that we have to whisper and be quiet in a movie theater so everyone can hear. Over time kids will realize that it’s rude to speak during a movie, but you can’t expect them to grasp such a nuanced concept at a young age. Still, it’s a good idea to reinforce it.

Secondly, kids like to have snacks while they watch movies. I know, shocker! So, I always make sure to have some go-to’s for my daughter along with the little box of popcorn I get her (but not too much water because I don’t want her getting up and disturbing her neighbors every 5 minutes to run to the bathroom).

And of course, last but not least, it’s crucial to pick the right time and type of movie for your child. Don’t pick a movie during a time when they’re usually sleepy or cranky. As well, do some investigation into the movie before you see it. Is there a lot of violence? Do a lot of characters die? How long is the movie? You don’t want to deal with a child who is bawling their eyes out because Nemo was shot, eaten, or destroyed, or crying to leave because they are tired or bored and don’t want to watch the 3-hour-long documentary about the Civil War anymore. Never a good time.

Do you have a great story about a bad movie theater etiquette?  Post all the details in the comment section below or on the Modern Manners Guy Facebook page.

As always, if you have another manners question, I look forward to hearing from you at manners@quickanddirtytips.com. Follow me on Twitter @MannersQDT, and of course, check back next week for more Modern Manners Guy tips for a more polite life.

Popcorn, Man with Cellphone and Kids at Movie images from Shutterstock