PSA: A Field Guide To The Difference Between Your Living Room And A Movie Theatre


With the summer movie season officially upon us, I have decided to dedicate Public Domain for a brief moment to delivering a very important public service announcement.

I, personally, love going to the movies.

Not watching a movie, but going to the theatre to see one.  To me, there’s something about the experience of going to see a film on the big screen, flickering light in a huge, cavernous darkened room, that no HD 1080p 3D Pixelvision yaddayaddayadda home theatre set-up is ever going to measure up to.

Yes, it’s expensive, the seating usually leaves much to be desired (I’m 6′ 3″, so most seating to me seems like it was designed for Hobbits), and it’s inconvient to actually have to be at a certain place at a certain time to engage with your media, rather than just dialing it up on-demand.

But I still love it.

Well, okay . . . not quite as much as I used to, due to some of the people whom with I must share the space with.

There is a difference between watching a movie at home and going to the movies, which I’m not entirely sure large groups of people I encounter seem to grasp.  So, class, let’s discuss so that we’re all on the same page, shall we?

It’s a pretty simple overall conceit, when it comes right down to it:


Let me re-emphasize that for the slower kids in the back of the room busily eating paste and fervently waiting for Pauly Shore to make a career-turning comeback so they get the Director’s Cut of Son-in-Law 2 3D on Blu-Ray:


I understand where the confusion sets in.  There’s a large rectangular screen in a room, upon which moving images appear, accompanied by sound.

There is also seating arranged around the large screen.

Please refer to Figures 1-1 and 1-2 below.


It’s tricky to tell them apart, I know.  One of the most simple and direct ways to determine which environment that you are actually partaking a film in is to stop and look around you.

Are there people present also watching the film in your immediate vicitiny that you do not know by name and cannot readily identify?

If the answer is ‘yes’, you might be in a public theatre.

Conversely, it may mean that you should probably start locking the doors and otherwise securing the entrances to your domicile to prevent random passerby from sitting in on Gangster Squad with you.

Another huge clue is if there was a human being standing at a counter or booth that charged you admission and issued you a printed paper ticket stub as proof of said admission, instead of an automated red kiosk spitting out a DVD or Blu-Ray in a hard transluscent plastic sleeve.  Please refer to Figures 2-1 and 2-2 below.


And you find yourself in an establishment called Blockbuster, where you can browse through shelves of movies in a VHS format available for rent, be aware that you may have accidentally travelled through time and act accordingly.

By which, yes, I do mean you should track down the Bieber family and make sure they understand by placing their future progeny’s vocal performances on the Internet, they will consign his soul to the deepest, darkest level of Hell.  Do NOT leave until you have fully convinced them that YouTube = Damnation.

And we will all retroactively thank you as our now altered timeline fades from existence.

Next stop: the Kardashian residence.

In any case, if you confirm that you are indeed at the movie theatre, you should attempt to follow the following guidelines:


Those of you who have grown up post the home video boom of the 1980s may not recognize that freely spoken commentary during the film is not always appreciated by a wider, more diverse audience in a public setting.


This ‘wider, more diverse audience’ can be defined as ‘anyone who would not miss you if you were to step off the curb in front of a bus or other large motor vehicle moving at any considerable rate of speed’.

Perhaps your parents, siblings, roomates, friends, or whomever is fortunate enough to be a captive audience with you at home when you’re watching a film think you are absolutely hilarious when you make asides to the on-screen action.

It may indeed be that you are the next comedic genius whose wit will make luminaries such as Chris Rock, Louie CK, and Jerry Seinfeld weep and consider permanent retirement, as they are unable to match your keen, gut-busting observations and therefore should just pack it in before you hit the big time and they are the subject of unfair comparisons.


To the rest of the world who doesn’t quite agree that you are a special little snowflake whose every indulgence and whim should be met, post-haste: you’re an obnoxious @#$hole.

Perhaps you’re not engaging in an impromptu open mic stand-up routine, but merely have some observation you would like to voice to your fellow theatre patrons.

Maybe you find it extremely unrealistic that during, say, the course of G.I. Joe: Retaliation, that despite discharging hundreds if not thousands of rounds, none of the characters ever seem to actually change clips in their assault weapons and therefore are working under different rules of reality than, say, oh, REAL LIFE.


That is a very astute observation, Sherlock.  Clearly you have missed your calling in life and should immediately report to the nearest FBI office for recruitment.

Until then, keep it to yourself.

Listen, I know we live in a culture where feedback is encouraged – nay, almost demanded of us — to be considered good citizens.  Where we no longer send intrepid men and women into space, but instead focus upon the technology necessary to send an open and unsolicited text message to the entire WORLD, all from the safety and comfort of a stall in a Wal-Mart restroom.


(Kind of gives a new connotation to the term ‘tweet’, doesn’t it?)

Just ignore those ingrained impulses and watch the movie.  Being quiet and not annoying those seated within earshot of you is not really all that difficult.  The saying is that it takes less muscles to smile than it does to frown.

It takes even less effort than that to keep your mouth in a simple, straight line, and your lips pressed tighly against each other with no sound whatsoever coming out of your face holes.



Nearly every movie theatre in the civilized world (and New Jersey) has a concession stand offering up snacks to its patrons.  There are two reasons for this common inclusion:

First, as hardcore cinema buffs can tell you, concession sales are an integral part of a theatre’s income, as the theatre often has to give up the majority of the ticket price to the studios and distributors, and therefore, needs you purchase a 5 oz. thimble of Diet Coke for around $10, along with a box of stale Bit O’ Honeys that were placed in that glass case right about the time Michael Keaton first donned a Batman costume, marked up to about 500% of its actual retail worth.

Second, modern homo sapiens can’t be enticed to do anything unless there is easy access to highly unhealthy yet extremely tasty junk food and sugary carbonated soft-drinks AT ALL POSSIBLE TIMES.


Am I saying that you should not eat or drink while at the movies, ever?

Well, that depends on your ability to do so in a quiet and unobtrustive manner.

I am not above acknowledging that those who are parched to be able to relieve their discomfort with a refreshing beverage consumed quietly.  I do that myself from time to time.

I also believe that people who insist on getting that last noisy slurp out of their 6.9 liter super-sized vat of Orange Fanta, knowing full well that there is no miraculous hidden motherlode vein of soda amongst the ice cube quarry making up the lower half of their cup to be extracted no matter how much suction is applied through the straw, should be quietly ushered out of the auditorium and maced in the parking lot.

There is, however, no need for you to spread out a five course meal on your lap and then try to consume it noisily in the dark.


If you can’t sit for two hours without suffering from hunger pains, then that is exceedingly poor planning on your part.  There’s a reason why it’s called ‘dinner and a movie’, and always IN THAT PARTICULAR ORDER.

The chow comes FIRST, so we don’t have to listen to you inhaling Coke, masticating Milk Duds like a bovine boss chewing its cud, and wrestling with cellophane wrappers during Man of Steel.  Hit up Mickey Ds before you come to Metropolis.


We are well into the 21st century, and sadly, science fiction has lied to us about the unparalleled majesty of daily life in the future.

No one has a flying car.  Jetpacks are obtainable, but not readily.  The variety of consumer-grade robots are confined to vacuum cleaners and toy dogs that are nowhere near as exciting, or even practical, as we were led to believe they would be by the year 2013.

What we did get, however, are smartphones.


Wonderous, multifunctional devices that serve as an invisible electromagnetic umbilical cord to a digital nirvana of near-unlimited cat videos, all the music you could ever want to own and listen to (but not actually, y’know, pay for), and the ability to peruse the entire production credits for The Crying Game while standing in line at Starbucks.

Clearly those visionary sci-fi writers who sold us this bill of goods about the promise of the future spent too much time looking up at the stars and not enough looking down at a tiny glowing screen.


I know, you’re a very busy and important person.  People need to be able to get in touch with you at any given moment no matter where you are or what you’re doing, and you need to be able to relate your thoughts and opinions to everyone who is a friend / buddy / follower.

I mean, if someone doesn’t update your 374 Facebook friends (21 of whom you actually know in real life) that your status is no longer ‘in the car, going to see World War Z and excited’ but now ‘in the theatre waiting to see World War Z and REALLY excited’, who is?


Put the gadgets away the moment you step into the auditorium.

It’s probably going to be difficult for you to control your raging addiction to monitoring the goings on of the entire world with your fingertips (or at least the latest up-to-the-second developments in your co-worker’s new romance and the baby mama drama that ensues therein).

There might be an entire ten minutes where you might have to interact with reality and possibly even the people you came to the movie with.  It’s crazy, borderline unfathomable, I know: giving people in your immediate vicinity your undivided attention when there might be a very important text message waiting for you from your cousin a thousand miles away, unread and unappreciated.

Eloquence such as, ‘where u at’.

How can you not light up your phone screen in the dark, distracting everyone seated behind you, to not quickly thumb in ‘at the movies and some rude guy is talkin to his girl in front of me that sux’?


I’m afraid I don’t have all the answers, my textmongering friend.

I might, though, if I wasn’t mentally figuring out the velocity and angle that I need to pitch my half-empty cup of Cherry Coke at the back of your stupid head so you, drenched in cola and ice, are now as annoyed as I am.

Neither one of us are actually watching the movie at this point, so we might as well have some other mutual way to pass the time, right?

See, they didn’t explicitly give me, on the screen, fifteen feet tall, a reminder prior to the feature presentation that I shouldn’t be throwing wax cups of soda and ice about, and I will be sure to argue that with the theatre management, mall security, and / or the local police.


You, though, did get a friendly heads-up about your poor choice of behavior, and therefore have no excuse.


I think that most moviegoers would not begrudge sharing the magical experience of the cinema with a youngster.  I certainly don’t, and salute parents for actually taking the time to engage in an activity with their ankle-biters instead of shoving an iPad or Nintendo DS in their grubby little paws to keep them preoccupied.

However, we need to agree upon some ground rules.


A.  Remember the old adage “children should be seen and not heard’?

Exactly what it says on the tin.  Shush them as quietly as you can when they act up and if that doesn’t work, time out in the restroom or the lobby.

B.  Addendum to said adage: “nor felt.”

If your kid is sitting behind me and kicking the back of my seat out of anxiety, boredom, or poor impulse control, that’s your responsibility to stop them.  Perhaps you find it relaxing to have them give you a ‘massage’ while they’re in the backseat of the minivan doing their best impression of David Beckham, but I prefer my chiropractic work to be done by a licensed professional who does not get juice and cookies before their afternoon nap.

C.  Do not bring a child under the age of two, period, ever, don’t care what the movie — or your rationale — is.

While your goal might have been to save money on a babysitter, you’re just reinforcing your poor lack of judgement which began with one too many Coronas in the back seat of the old man’s Caddy on prom night two years ago and the seventy-five cents one of you ‘saved’ on a Trojan in the gas station restroom.  Paid out over the next eighteen years, that’s going to be quite the bargain.

It’s time to start making sound choices, don’t you think?  Leave the infant at home and let’s all enjoy Kick-Ass 2.

D.  This is a very important formula for every parent to take into consideration when taking their child to the theatre:

AGE + 2 = BLADDER CAPACITY (in ounces)

Which means that a five year old can consume about seven ounces of liquid before needing to rid themselves of said liquid.  Please do the math at the concession stand.

(This also means that you, at, say, age twenty-six, cannot expect to down that 64-oz. Sprite without being in some serious discomfort, or your crotch or posterior coming within unreasonable distance of my face while you’re clamboring over me to get to the aisle so you can relieve yourself.)

It’s your responsibility to keep your kids from being a detriment to everyone else’s experience.

If you happen to be a liberal sort who firmly believes that the does indeed take a village to raise a child, keep in mind that some of us represent hamlets that are like the quaint little ones found in Stephen King novels — the ones with rabid, gore-soaked St. Bernards and nests of blooduscking, non-sparkly vampires — and may not feel bad in the least about verbally correcting your rugrat, if you don’t.


And that, my fellow cinephiles, concludes our PSA on movie theatre ettiqute.  See you at the movies!

(And if I do, and you’re sitting directly in front of me, please do me a favor and crouch down a little so I don’t have to stare at the back of your head for ninety minutes and notice that in relief against a large glowing rectangle, just how weirdly misshapen your noggin is.  I’ll return the favor if the roles are reversed, promise.)

— mal

Thanks for stopping by Public Domain!  As it turns out, there is actually at least one theatre in London that actively tries to discourage bad behavior during movies . . . using ‘movie ninjas’, volunteers dressed in head-to-toe black bodysuits that are practically invisible when the house lights go down and jump unsuspecting @#$holes:


This is opposed to American theatre chain executives who are debating whether or not to relax ‘no texting’ policies to attract a younger demographic of moviegoer.

Hey, as long as we’re going to cater to young people who are going to go to the theatre but not actually watch the film, why not just convert the back couple rows of seats in each auditorium into cots so Mom can drop off the hormonally supercharged kids and they can just BOW-CHICKA-BOW-WOW instead of watching The Wolverine?




  1. …amen to the above…me an’ my good friend Dee, when we can afford to drag our destitute asses down to the local picture palace, have discovered that Sunday/Monday first session in the mornings are the optimum viewing times…that way you not sharing with more than 1 or 2 other folk… spread out, feet up, enjoy!!…

    • Whoa — you have A.M. showings? That would be kind of awesome — usually the earliest we get is noon, and that’s sometimes just on weekends.

      • …10.30 or 11…very rarely more than 4 or 5 people… they’ll cotton on to it one day!…

  2. Wow, you think 2 is old enough to take a kid? I didn’t take my daughter till she was almost 5, and even then I was nervous. And, funny you should mention Kick Ass and infants, because that’s the only movie (obviously the first one) where I saw a parent bring an INFANT! Who the freak does that?

    • Hmmm, maybe that was an exaggeration of sorts — I was kind of leery about even bringing the kid angle up as not to unduly offend people. I’ve only had a few poor experiences with kids at the theatre, and I get that if you’re going to see a certain type of film, like an animated Disney picture, there’s going to be kids and they’re going to be a little exuberant. Repeatedly kicking the back of the seat fairly hard when a parent is sitting right next to them, though, that’s not kosher — how do you not notice that or even hear it when there’s a quiet moment?

      I’ve never actually seen an infant in the theatre, but Kick Ass? Really?

      I think it’s a law of diminishing returns — theatre owners have failed to do anything substantial to curb the bad behavior and a lot of people have just had enough, so now they’re considering just making it more lax to draw people in, which in turn will just leave them with an overwhelmingly boorish audience who will drive away the remaining holdouts.

      • Yeah it was Kick Ass, but it also was Manhattan and that city is just a free-for-all. When it comes to Pixar style movies, however, I will say the noisy adults are much more annoying. This one time a man who barely spoke English was yelling ‘HA HA HA OH GUD HAHAHA’ all through the Croods, but my daughter was quiet. Go figure.

  3. HAWHAWHAW, this is one of your funniest posts ever! I love the amateur comedian gag – holy cow, is that one true! I absolutely love going to the movies, but it’s true that it can get kind of crazy. The impact technology has had on all of us in such a short time sure is crazy, and it is very frustrating when people text or answer calls (!!!) during a movie. But ti’s still worth it for that magic you feel when the lights come back up after something really amazing.

    • Thanks! I went out to Pittsburgh last weekend to attend the Comic Arts Festival there, and my girlfriend and I spent a little time exploring the downtown area and doing the tourist thing, and I literally watched a guy with earbuds in, fidding with his phone, walk right out into traffic and almost get clipped by a car — and then give the driver of the car, who was following the flow of traffic, didn’t run any lights, was following all the established rules, dirty looks. Phone guy didn’t even look up once to see if he should cross, because apparently having his playlist just *right* for the ambulance or hearse ride was more important.

      I’m starting to wonder if somewhere Charles Darwin isn’t laughing his fool head off, as this technology-on-the-go obsession might be the best test of survival of the fittest we’ve come up with yet.

      And now Google wants to attach this stuff right to people’s faces via a pair of eyeglass frames. I love cyberpunk as much as the next guy, but it’s not just going to be the smart hackers who end up with chips in their head feeding data right into their brains.

      (Cue the part when the stuff makes a Facebook post for you that you’ve been a pedestrian and hit by a car, and the status updates as the ER staff tries to keep you from dying because you were watching a cat video instead of the bus that hit you.)

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