Thursday, July 12, 2018



by Stephen Whitty (,

What’s wrong with the movies isn’t the movies.

It’s the movie audiences.

Yes, I know the complaints about the films themselves – that there aren’t enough made for adults, or with women in strong roles. I’ve done a lot of that kvetching myself. And I’ve heard the grumbles about the theaters – the high ticket prices, the dirty floors, the sound that’s either softly muffled or incredibly deafening.

But that’s not the worst of it.

The worst of it is when you do find a movie you want to see, drive to a nice theater with good projection, settle in to enjoy the film and then – after a good 20 minutes of commercials, public service announcements and trailers for pictures you now vow to avoid like the plague – the person in front of you pulls out their cell phone. Or the person next to you drops their 64-oz soda all over your strappy sandals.

Like Sartre said, “Hell is other people.” And that was before multiplexes.

Oh, I know you know how to behave. It’s the other folks I’m worried about. But movie etiquette isn’t very complicated, so it shouldn’t take us long to run through the basics. Maybe some helpful souls will even print this out and post in in some theaters. Or share with their kids. Or just send a link to other film buffs so we can all commiserate about what we have to put up with.

It’s not hard to be a considerate cinemagoer, either. First, if you haven’t already purchased your tickets, arrive with a good idea of what it is you want to see. Those eight people in line behind you really don’t want to spend five minutes watching you stare up at the list of films, loudly wondering, “I dunno, should we see ‘Fast and the Spurious IX’ or ‘Mission: Implausible VI,’ ‘cause I really like Dim Diesel but Tom Crude is kinda…”

Enough. Make your choice. Keep moving.

If you’re going to get anything from the concessions stand, the same rules apply. Arrive with at least a vague idea of what you want to buy. Don’t harangue the blameless kid behind the counter about the prices, or embark on complicated calculations about whether the Big Eater Bonanza is really a better combo deal than the Glutton Bucket Blowout. Also, take care of any restroom needs. Once you’ve taken your seat, we’d really prefer it if you stayed in your seat.

Also, try not to save more than one or two seats for your friends. Telling me an entire empty row is already “taken” makes me feel like I just missed the Rapture.

Now, you’re finally in the theater, you’ve managed to make your way through all the pre-feature filler, the motion picture you just paid $15 to see begins – and you pull out your phone? OK, here is a small, yet apparently radical idea: Turn the thing off when you sit down. Put it away. Do not take it out again until the movie is over. You do not need it. You will survive. And you will have a much better time at the movies, and I won’t be defending myself from assault charges.

Seriously, I’ve heard the excuses. “My child is home sick!” Well, then why aren’t you home with her? Sure, there are times when someone may need to reach you in a hurry. And there are a few jobs – transplant surgeon, four-star-general, Kim and Kanye’s publicist – where you really are on call 24/7. What do you do then? Well, in those cases, you put your phone on vibrate. And when it buzzes, you get up quickly, leave the theater, and take the call in the lobby.

Oh, and the same goes for the parents who thought they’d save on baby-sitting by bringing along their two-year-old to “Leatherface Meets Freddy: The Final Slaughter” — and are absolutely astounded when the toddler starts screaming. Or the person sitting behind you, whose constant hacking suggests an audition for the new John Keats biopic. Kindly remove yourself with your child and/or cough until everything’s under control. We’d actually like to hear the movie.

Really, none of this seems terribly difficult, does it?

And yet I once saw a woman pull out her phone during a movie and start shopping for shoes. A man, obviously bored with the picture onscreen, turn on his phone and start watching a different movie. And believe me, film critics can be just as bad. I’ve known several who switched on flashlights so they could take notes. One terrible troll would, once the houselights went down, actually haul out his laptop – and start typing up his review then and there.

As for actual audience reactions – please, go wild. Really. This is a communal art – that’s why you’re seeing this in a theater, with other people, instead of in your living room, alone. I love hearing people laughing uproariously at a comedy, or shouting “Don’t go in the basement!” just as the horror-movie heroine is about to do exactly that. These aren’t funerals. These are films, and you’re supposed to be there having a good time.

It’s just easier for everyone to do that if you’re not suddenly climbing over us to rush to the restroom. (If you think you might have, um, needs, sit on the aisle.) Or if you don’t appear five minutes into the movie with a big tray of taco chips and melted-cheese product, which you then proceed to drip on us. Of, if every ten minutes, you’re not turning on your phone to see what time it is (Tip: Buy a watch) or if you got any great new party invites. (Safe bet: You did not.)

Of course, this isn’t the only reason people are staying home these days. The movies themselves have their own problems – I think I caught superhero fatigue about three years ago. And too many theaters seem determined to drive customers away – leaving 3D lenses on for 2D movies (which drastically dims the light), or matting things improperly (so you see too little of the image, or too much, with mikes suddenly dropping into frame), or just turning up the sound so loud it becomes an assault.

But for our time at the movies to be better, movie audiences really need to be better. And if that means a return of those crabby matinee matrons who used to prowl the aisles with a flashlight – I’m willing to apply for the job. In fact, I think I just did.

What’s the movie-theater behavior that drives you to distraction? Worst experiences ever? Or – on a happier note – what’s your favorite local picture palace? Be sure to let us know in the comments below, or drop me a line at, and perhaps we’ll collect them for a follow-up. After all, everyone likes sequels, don’t they?

Stephen Whitty is the former movie critic for the StarLedger. His reviews can be found at and