Box Office Guy: Cinema Etiquette

Patrick Reardon

Last weekend "The Dark Tower" topped the box office with a weak $19.2m opening. It was the lowest grossing weekend of the summer thus far. Things won't get a whole lot better this weekend with the arrival of "Annabelle: Creation" (I expect an opening in the low-mid $20s) and "The Nut Job 2: Nutty By Nature" (family audiences should propel it to the low teens).

Overall box office is down roughly 10% from the summer of 2016, which I find strange since the films of summer 2017 have been superior from a quality standpoint. So what gives? In addition to younger generations having more distractions than ever before, I think the biggest reason for sluggish tickets sales is the deterioration of the theater going experience. And I'm not talking about the theaters themselves (many of which are top notch), I'm talking about some of the people who attend said theaters.

There is an amusing thread currently going on in the main chatter ("Cinema Etiquette," courtesy of McArdle Movies) where fellow FMLers complain about the types of people that drive them insane when they go to the movies. This inspired me to make my own list of things that drive me crazy when I attend the cinema. Here is my list of the ten moviegoers that irritate me the most in order from least annoying (but still REALLY annoying) to most annoying (i.e. there should be mandatory jail time for these offenders). For the record my initial list was three times longer than this but I only have so much time/space to work with here.

10. The Sleepers

This would be higher on the list but it doesn't happen that often. But when it does? It's like nails on a chalkboard.

Case in point, a few years back I went to see "The Intern" at my local theater. The couple behind me decided this was an opportune time to catch some shut-eye. Not only were they both sprawled out all over their row but they were BOTH snoring. Loudly. Uncontrollably. People five rows in front of us were turning around to see what was causing this buzzsaw-esque noise. "The Intern" wasn't the most exciting movie I've ever seen, but it was hardly sleep inducing. To the couple that paid good money to take a nap, thank you for ruining the movie for everyone who was in the theater that night. And I sincerely hope I never see (or hear) you again.

9. The Chronic Pee-Breakers

These are the people who get up multiple times during the movie to use the restroom. And they always seems to sit right in the middle of the theater so they're forced to climb over as many people as possible. Here's a crazy thought, how about using the restroom beforehand? Or perhaps you can wait until after the movie is over? There was nothing more gratifying than seeing "Wonder Woman" emerge from a trench during World War I to save a village from Nazi doom…only to be interrupted by a clumsy guy climbing over my lap because he thought it was a good idea to drink a 64oz barrel of soda to wash down his trough of popcorn. Go before or after the movie! And if you can't possibly hold it for two hours, how about selecting an aisle seat?

8. The Procrastinators

These people are very similar to number 9 on this list but I experience them a little more frequently. These are the ones who wait until the last possible second to find their seats and/or awkwardly look for their group of friends in the dark. I've been to hundreds (thousands?) of movies in my life and I can't recall a time where I wasn't in my seat before the opening credits. It's an easy skill to master.

7. The Feet on the Seats

Just because theater seats have gotten nicer and more comfortable over the years doesn't mean you're in your own living room. Put your damn feet on the floor. And this goes double for people who wear flip-flops to the theater. When I pay the price of admission I'm not agreeing to have a relationship with your disgusting feet on the back of my headrest.

6. The Outside Food Bringers

Granted, movie theater concessions are somewhat expensive. However I'm sympathetic because this is how theaters make the bulk of their money. But I'm not going to come down hard on people who sneak in some candy or a latte to save a couple of dollars. But then there are the people who take this concept to the next level.

Back in 2002 I went to go see "Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones" on opening night. And believe it or not Hayden Christensen's performance wasn't the most upsetting part of the evening. That honor was saved for the beefy couple sitting next to me. The woman pulled a giant mass of foil out of her purse. She noisily unfurled this tin structure and then took out a pair forks (metal ones, not plastic!). They proceeded to devour this pile of food. To this day I'm not sure if it was a burrito, some loaded nachos that sat in a purse for too long, or some arroz con pollo. Point is, it was smelly, disgusting and made the whole theater smell like the kitchen at Chili's. And since it was opening night there were no open seats to move to. If I were in charge of this theater I would have kicked them out and confiscated their tin foil basket of slop.

5. The Laugh Trackers

I'm all for spontaneous or organic laughter. It's one of the best parts of the theater going experience. But have you ever been in a theater with people who feel the need to laugh at everything (regardless of whether or not it's meant to be funny)?

For example, back in 2003 I went to see a little film by the name of "The Station Agent." The film features a pre-"Game of Thrones" Peter Dinklage and has the following plot:

When his only friend dies, a man born with dwarfism moves to rural New Jersey to live a life of solitude, only to meet a chatty hot dog vendor and a woman dealing with her own personal loss.

Though there are several moments of subtle humor it's hardly a laugh riot. But there was a trio of people in the theater that night that laughed hysterically at nearly every single line of dialogue. Almost as if they were recording a laugh track for an episode of "The Big Bang Theory." I'd be tempted to write this off as a group of people who decided to get stoned one night and go see "The Station Agent" but I witness this phenomenon all the time. What is wrong with people?

4. The Narrators

These people are similar to number 1 on my list (we'll get to those bastards in a second), but they're not as malicious. These are the people who feel the need to provide their own DVD commentary track to the movie (either to their friends or just to themselves). Sometimes they just seem clueless and don't even realize they're doing it.

Several years back I went to see the Sylvester Stallone opus "Cliffhanger" (i.e. "Die Hard on a Mountain"). There was a guy behind me on what looked like a date. He was wearing a gas station shirt that had his nametag sewn on. This guy managed to explain the plot to his date in excruciating detail. In case you're not familiar with the plot of "Cliffhanger," you'll just have to trust me when I say that the plot isn't really intricate enough to warrant a spoon-fed explanation. I paid to see Sylvester Stallone match wits with John Lithgow on a mountain, not to have it explained to me by "Tony" from the local Chevron station.

3. The Texters

These people drew real consideration for the top spot on this list. If you've been to a movie in the last decade you know who they are. They're the ones who feel they have to text, instagram, tweet, etc. during the film. Which wouldn't be a problem if the screens didn't light up the whole theater!

I was recently attending a screening of "War for the Planet of the Apes" and the kid in front of me was checking his instagram every five minutes. I tried to ignore it but he had an iphone 7-plus so the giant screen was giving off a ton of light. I paid to see Caesar, not this kids social life (or apparent lack thereof). It got to the point where my fiancé kicked the back of his chair whenever he pulled his phone out. Needless to say I couldn't have been prouder of her.

My hatred of in-movie texters has me very excited that there is an Alamo Drafthouse Cinema coming soon to Los Angeles. This chain actually enforces a no texting-policy. Any chain that uses a PSA like this (featuring a voicemail from one of the worst people in the country) is welcome in my city anytime:

2. The Small Children

When I go to see a Pixar movie or even a superhero flick I accept that there will likely be small children in the audience. The people who make me irate are the maniacs who bring small children to evening showings of R-rated films.

I've seen this happen countless times but one really sticks out in my mind. It was an opening night showing of "Grindhouse" in 2007. In case you're not familiar with "Grindhouse" it's an ultra-violent double feature from Quentin Tarantino & Robert Rodriguez (plus some trailer parodies from other filmmakers). Not only is "Grindhouse" incredibly violent, but it's insanely long (3 hours and 11 minutes). This was an 8:00 pm showing so by the time you factored in the running time with previews and pre-show commercials the movie didn't end until 11:30 pm at the earliest. And some genius decided to bring a 2-year old to the screening, where the child proceeded to cry/scream/shriek off and on over the course of the next three and a half hours. In hindsight I should have called social services on this guy. But look on the bright side; with all the money that guy saved on a babysitter he'll now be able to put it towards the kid's therapy bills.

1. The Talkers

In all honesty I could have put either of the previous two items at number 1. But I think the talkers are the ones I deal with every single time I go to the movies. I'm not sure when it became socially acceptable to treat a public theater like one's own living room, but it's been happening for a long time and it's only getting worse. I don't care what you had for lunch today. I don't care what classes your grandson is taking at junior college. I don't care where you want to eat after the show. I don't care if you find the plot confusing and need it explained to you. FYI - these are recent examples of snippets of conversations I've heard DURING the movie I was watching.

All I care about are the images on screen that I paid money to see and escaping for a couple of hours. So I sincerely ask anyone who feels the need to talk during a movie: please shut the hell up? Pretty please? With sugar on top? It's rude, it's inconsiderate, and it's narcissistic. Just shut up.

After reading this list you may find it hard to believe that I actually still enjoy going to the movies. Seriously. But I don't go nearly as often as I used to. Nowadays if I'm on the fence about a movie I factor in whether or not I want to play "a-hole roulette" and risk getting stuck in an auditorium with someone who exhibits one (or more) of these aforementioned behaviors. And I'm not alone. I know movie-buffs who have curtailed their theater going habits because it simply isn't as much fun anymore.

Bad movies, piracy, and increased competition from the digital world are all problems for the movie industry. But if die-hard movie fans stop religiously attending the cinema because some bad apples ruin the experience for them? Then Hollywood will really have a problem on their hands.

Weekend Picks

My picks for this weekend's top 5 in total box office (this week's cost in FML Bux in parentheses):
1. Annabelle: Creation (FB$380)
2. The Nut Job 2: Nutty By Nature (FB$176)
3. Dunkirk (FB$143)
4. The Dark Tower (FB$106)
5. The Emoji Movie (FB$77)

Bonus Pick of the Week: "Baby Driver" Without an obvious bonus performer near the top I'm looking for value in my filler picks. The steady Edgar Wright sleeper hit has yet to drop more than 37% in any of its six weeks of release. In a tightly contested bonus contest "Baby Driver" should be in the hunt with a cost of FB$21.

Coming Attractions

Next weekend a pair of new action comedies are set for a head to head battle. "The Hitman's Bodyguard" starring Ryan Reynolds and Samuel L. Jackson will try to top Steven Soderbergh's "Logan Lucky" for box office supremacy.

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