I’ve been doing this blog for a year and a half now and I’ve pondered getting a bit more personal in some these top ten lists of mine. It’s a slow week and so I decided to break out one of those very lists which is based on my hobby of going to a theatrical film practically every week of the year. There are a lot of things about going to the movies you may overlook. I’ve seen it all. I’ve bought almost every item at least once at concessions, sat in almost every theater in my local cinema at least once and even tried a trick or two to get the most out of my nights without spending any unneeded cash. Theatrical film viewing can be an expensive hobby and an annoying one if you don’t know the tips, tricks or etiquette. So I’m here today to share the knowledge I’ve gained over the last year and a half so that hopefully I can enhance your experience or at least help you be a more respectful and sly moviegoer all around. These are my Ten Tips and Tricks for Enhancing Your Cinema Experience.
This list is purely subjective. The point here is to help give you ideas or make you aware of things that might make the movie going experience more fun and enjoyable. These tips will range from proper etiquette to a few tricks I learned to get a little more bang for your buck. Obviously I’m not an absolute expert here but I go to a movie every weekend, sometimes two on the same night, so I can safely say I’ve learned a thing or two and know what I’m talking about…mostly.
I hope you find this list interesting and helpful. I’d like to make more lists like this in the future so please let me know what you think in the comments below and if you have any tips or tricks of your own that you would like to share please feel free to do so in the comments as well. Now on with the show!
10. Seriously, Turn Off the Phone
It’s the ultimate movie theater cliché. You’re reminded beforehand to turn the phone off. It’s a standard now in the age of mobile devices. However, as much as it pains me, I still feel the need to say PLEASE respect this rule and turn off or silence your phones during the movie. There are few things more obnoxious during a movie than a phone going off. It’s embarrassing for you and it can take everyone else out of the film regardless of how engaged they might be. It’s not just about etiquette either. Occasionally people will try to record the movie they are watching on their phones to bootleg it and if you’re seen using your cell phone in a suspicious manner during the film you will probably be asked to leave. If you need to check the time (you know for those boring movies that can’t hold your attention) or you’re expecting an important message turn the lighting on your phone all the way down for the duration of the film and leave the theater quietly if you have to answer an important call. I’m not going to lie I’ve checked my phone in the theater before, but I’ve also found that as much as we might not want to admit it doing so also takes YOU out of the movie. When you’re not looking at the screen your missing something and it can be a pain in the rear to catch yourself up if something subtle or significant happens at that time. So it’s best to ignore the time or even phone in the car until the end of the show and enjoy the movie you paid your hard earned cash to see without that distraction.
9. Movies Are Not for Babies
I’ve seen it many times. Parents bring young babies to the theater for the sentimentality of introducing them to their first cartoon on the big screen. But please parents, just don’t. Many parents won’t bring their children to the theater until they are 3 or 4, but remember this is a big, dark room with loud noises that the children may not be comfortable with so make sure they are, in fact, willing to take on such an experience before taking them to the movies. Taking a baby to the theater is a useless effort. It’s likely they won’t remember the experience nor will they enjoy it because, again, it’s loud, it’s dark, and there are a lot of stimuli the child may not respond well to. Some justify it by saying they don’t have a babysitter, but while I’m not a parent and I LOVE going to the movies I wouldn’t ever go the theater without someone watching the child at home. Bringing a young baby along impacts your experience and the experience of those around you when the child acts up. Now don’t get me wrong, I’ve seen babies who are very well behaved at the movies but it’s a rarity. You’re better off using that night as a date night to get out of the house and just enjoy yourselves. Save the family experience of the first movie for an older age when the children might respect it more and remember it. You’ll appreciate it more, they’ll appreciate it more and everyone around you will appreciate it more because trust me hearing kids laugh at the screen is a LOT more fun than hearing a baby cry.
8. Personal Showings
One of the coolest tricks is to wait until the movie has gone through its early run and possibly get your own private showing of the film for a cheap price. For blockbuster movies this usually means waiting until after the first two weeks of the movie’s release. If you time it right then you may find yourself the only person in the theater and have the movie all to yourself or just you and whoever you brought. I’ve done this several times, the first being the “Carrie” remake, and if you can make it happen it’s pretty neat. The best times to try this are during normal working hours, say 9 a.m. through 4 p.m. or so, on Tuesday or Wednesday. These days tend to be slower days and sometimes offer discounts for matinees so not only could you have the theater to yourself, but get it at a good price. Now granted this trick is based purely on chance, but there may also be a way to guarantee it. Most cinemas have at least one theater where you can reserve your seat. All you need to do is keep an eye on that theater through a phone ap, which most cinemas offer as well, and see if any seats have been taken. If you play your cards right and pay attention you could easily work around it so that the theater is all yours for the duration of the film. I’ve made this work with maybe ten movies in my time, but considering I tend to go to movies on weekends and on premier weekends nonetheless it’s harder for me to do it now than it was when I was a more casual moviegoer. Follow these guidelines and you may find yourself feeling like you own the place even if for only two hours.
7. Rewards Cards Are Not Overrated
Now I know I go to movies every weekend, but in doing so I also use my rewards card which earns me at least one free ticket a month and a few free snacks as well. You can enjoy these perks too and it’s not that hard to earn these rewards. Depending on what cinema company you have around you these cards work differently and earn you points for every purchase you make in the cinema. My theater for example is a Showcase Cinema and the points add up to a reward for every $75 spent. The rewards shift from popcorn to a fountain drink to a free ticket every other reward. Obviously $75 is a lot to pay for a movie, but if you think about it movie tickets cost (usually) anywhere from $10.00 to $18.00 depending on the night you go and if you choose to go to bigger more luxurious theaters like IMAX. Well what if you added EVERYONE’S points to your card? That’s a trick I use. When I’m going to the theater with a big group of friends, especially to a blockbuster film that’s sure to be crowded, we will often preorder tickets. It’s then that I buy the tickets for everyone at once, putting every point on my card. My friends will pay me back of course but in exchange for me driving and reserving the tickets I get the points and, thus, the rewards. It might seem unethical to “use” your friends like that but if they’re alright with it then go for it. They get to enjoy the evening without having to worry about driving or getting to the theater before tickets run out and you get to reap the literal rewards at less cost to you. Even something as simple as buying everyone’s stuff at concessions can up your points while making life easier for those who tagged along.
6. Middle Seats Are ALSO Not Overrated
When going to the movies or anywhere for that matter where a crowd might be it’s natural to want to be on the outside of the row. It makes going to the bathroom or for a drink or anything else a lot easier. However if you’re going to the movies it’s a different story. The optimum place to be is right in the middle. Unless you have an overactive bladder or poorly planned your snack fix you should be ready for the long haul once the film begins. Whether you’re in the front rows or all the way in the back sitting in the center gives you the most optimum position for the full experience. Too much to the left or right and the screen view is awkward especially with bigger theaters. Also the sound quality is much better because you’re getting the true effects of the surround sound. While this doesn’t apply to all theaters because some are built to be smaller, the medium size and larger theaters built for a more immersive experience pretty much require center seating in order to enjoy the experience properly. Don’t be afraid to be surrounded during the film. Fear of the center seats really rose after the Colorado theater shooting with moviegoers wanting a way out for a quick getaway, but let’s be real. If you go into the theater and compromise your experience based on what MIGHT happen by the absolute slimmest of chances then you’re still losing. In the end take it from me, the center seats are prime viewing locations for a movie and can ensure that you’ll be comfortable and get the absolute most out of the film in every way.
5. Don’t Watch Movies Drunk
Last year I crossed something odd off my bucket list, getting a great buzz on and then going to the movie. While this MIGHT work when you mix comedy and marijuana (I truly don’t know that experience as I don’t smoke) getting drunk or even very well buzzed before a film is not the best idea. First of all unless you want to be one of those risky rule breakers who sneak in wine coolers and nips, that buzz is probably not going to last long. Most movies are over an hour and a half so probably by halfway you’ll sober up and it won’t feel very good after staring at a screen and being bombarded with loud noises. There’s also no room for a refill like at a concert or a live show and few, if any, theaters today offer alcohol to help you keep that buzz. For me it completely took me out of the film and actually made me want to leave and lie down. At home it might be nice to mix a drink or pour a glass of wine but in the theater it’s a lot harder to focus and you don’t have the room to move around freely or the ability to pause the film if you want to take a nap or grab another drink. Being inebriated also affects your focus so if you’re watching a film that demands your attention, as most movies should, it might be hard for you to follow the story if you’re not completely focused on the action on screen. Obviously alcohol has a different effect on everyone but it’s almost assured to have a negative effect on your viewing experience in an actual movie theater. Sure have a drink before the show or afterwards, but don’t overdo it and make sure you bring water and plenty of food with you because otherwise you could very well be regretting the decision by the halfway point of the movie.
4. Employees Do Keep an Eye on You (At Least During the Movie)
This one is more a fair warning than anything else. Have you ever been in a movie and noticed in the middle of the film an usher or another employee comes in and walks in front of the screen? No? Pay attention next time you’re there. It happens for several different reasons. The first reason is to benefit the viewers. Cinemas have at least one person go into the theater during showings in order to check the screen, volume and air quality in the room. They do their best to remain inconspicuous and if you’re not looking for them you might miss them or mistake them for another viewer. But the real reason this should be noted is that they are also there to make sure nobody is disrupting the movie. They take a quick scan of the crowd looking for people talking too loudly or even people using their phones to potentially bootleg the film on screen. They’re not in the theater long, but they are there so don’t ever assume than you’re not being watched. Getting caught doing the wrong thing in the theater, whether that’s “adult activity” or recording the movie, means automatic ejection so just be warned. Getting caught could mean more than just wasted money on a movie ticket. On the flip side however due to more modern filming presentation there’s not always an employee in the projector booth and contrary to popular belief unless there’s a promotional reason behind it cinemas don’t usually keep night vision security cameras in the theaters.
3. Movies Hardly Ever Start on Time
So it’s a Friday night. You both just got out of work and your movie starts in 45 minutes but it’s a half hour drive to the theater. You don’t have time to change and grab a quick bite because you’ll be late for the movie and you want your popcorn right? Wrong! I employ this approach all the time and only once has it ever done me wrong. Almost every movie starts late because most cinemas calculate previews into the start time. They want you to see the previews so you’re further enticed to come back and see the next big film a few months from now. But if previews aren’t your thing you can skip them and use that extra time to get to the theater or get a snack. From my experience previews run for a minimum of ten minutes but most take 15 to 20 minutes to run through. That gives you plenty of time to pace yourself on your way into the movie and you don’t have to worry about not seeing the seats when you walk in late because the lights only go down once the theater logos start to appear AFTER the previews. The only time this would NOT work is during a busy weekend with blockbuster films, but if you can save your seat ahead of time then all you need to do is show up, get your snacks and sit and you have an extra 10 to 20 minutes to get all that done. The best part is this usually doesn’t affect the run time of the movie either as cinemas try to stay on a strict schedule so that employees know when to clean the theaters and what movie is being shown where and for how long.
2. Concessions Are Pretty Much a Scam
You may think that movie cinemas make most of their money on tickets but would be wrong. The big moneymaker for cinemas is the concessions where prices are unbelievable. Years ago cinemas started preventing people from bringing in their own food and drinks except under very specific circumstances. Regardless of the reason for this move cinemas know they have you at their mercy with prices of popcorn and water all spiked so that simply buying those two items alone costs you the same as a normal Friday night ticket. Of course you also have to consider the mental association between popcorn and the movies as well. For generations the salty, sometimes buttery snack has been associated with cinemas and cinemas even pump the smell throughout the building and theaters to entice you. But why do you NEED to be eating popcorn during the film? It’s actually counterproductive because the popcorn is often over salted which, of course, makes you thirsty and few theaters have convenient water fountains available so it also necessitates the purchase of a drink. All of this can be avoided in one of two ways. Either simply go out to eat before your get to the theater or sneak snacks in like I do. I’ll fill a small bag with almonds or beef jerky before going into the theater and keep it in my pocket. If I want a drink I’ll fill a thin flask with water and bring that. Or if I’m lucky enough to have a female friend along with me we’ll have a full water bottle and a few bags of snacks in her purse. I’m not saying you should NEVER popcorn and a soda, but the point is they are expensive additions to the night and there are a lot of ways around it, all of which can save you TONS of cash especially if it’s a family affair.
1. The Double Feature
It is possible to see two movies for the price of one, but it requires careful planning, being inconspicuous and an awareness of the popularity of the movies you’re planning to see. To start most theaters don’t care if you make it a double feature as long as you’re not obvious about it. I’ve snuck into MANY movies after my original feature was finished and it’s not as hard as you might think. Plan your mission wisely. Know which two movies you’re going to see, which one is more popular and more likely to have limited seating, and consider the length of the film. Here’s how I make it work. My cinema has a kiosk for buying tickets, most do nowadays, and that tells you the movies, the times, and even the theaters they will play in. I will look at both movies on the kiosk. For example, if I’m seeing the new “Avengers” movie and a minor comedy film back to back I look at “Avengers” first because I don’t want to sneak into a potentially sold out theater. From there it’s simple math. Make sure the movies are on the same side of the cinema. If “Avengers” is in theater one and is two hours long and starts at 5:00 and the comedy starts at 7:20 in theater five I’ll buy a ticket for “Avengers”, which gets me into that side of the theater. “Avengers” should be done by 7:00 or 7:15 and all I need to do is casually make my way to theater five just in time for the previews. Also remember what I said about previews? That gives you a 10 to 20 minutes window after the first movie to get to the second one. If you avoid buying concessions for the second movie then no one knows you’re still in the theater and if you’re worried about that theater checker recognizing you, first off they won’t but if you want to avoid it for sure sit way in the back where they can’t recognize your face in the dark. Play your cards right and you’ll be able to enjoy several movies back to back for the cost of a single ticket.