The worst movie etiquette I ever experienced came halfway through The Sixth Sense, the film with the most famously shocking plot twist since The Crying Game. The woman sitting in front of me kept leaning over to her companion and complaining about plot holes. “Why did he do this?” “What about that?”
Frustrated, the companion, who apparently had seen the movie before, hissed his reply at her. I won’t reveal what he said because I have manners; I don’t give away plot turns on which an entire movie hinges, spoiling the movie for people who haven’t yet seen it.
But given the amount of chatting that goes on during movies these days, apparently not everyone thinks talking during a movie is bad manners. Or that texting, crying babies, or crackling noisy wrappers during pivotal scenes might also be rude. It’s tragic that someone has to spell it out, but there a few simple behaviors that, if observed by everyone, would make seeing a movie even more enjoyable.
Move the line along.
Decide what movie you want to see before you get to the ticket counter, and have a backup option in case your movie is sold out. Have your credit card or cash ready so you don’t hold up the line while you dig through your purse or wallet.
Be on time.
Arrive early enough to get your popcorn and drink, find a seat, and get settled before the previews start. Also, keep in mind that the first weekend of a new release can get crowded. So showing up at 7:43 for a 7:45 movie means that as you make your way to the last two seats in the middle of the row, you’ll likely end up stepping on toes and putting your rear in the face of those who arrived on time.
Whisper, don’t talk.
The previews are as much a part of the movie-going experience for some people as the movie itself, so when they start, stop talking. Whispering is okay, but be considerate. Try to open any packages with noisy wrappers before the lights go down.
Mute your cell.
Put your phone on vibrate, or better yet, just silence it all together since sometimes the vibrations are still audible, and vibrate-mode may not stop the sounds that announce incoming text messages, emails, or calendar reminders. If you absolutely must take a call, step into the hall.
Refrain from texting.
Just because you’re not talking doesn’t mean you’re not distracting others. The bright lights of text screens can take someone’s attention off the big screen, and many keypads make ticking noises when you type. Even if it’s the worst and longest movie you’ve ever seen, give your thumbs a rest for a couple of hours.
Use the garbage can.
When you finish your drink or snacks at home, you don’t just leave them on the floor for someone else to pick up later. Use the same consideration at the theater and carry your trash out with you after the movie is over and dispose of it in the nearest trash can. Also, most movie theaters have a holder for your cup; use it. That ubiquitous movie-floor stickiness can be avoided.
Take discreet breaks.
If you think you might need a bathroom break during the movie, consider sitting on the aisle. If you need to slip out during the movie and are sitting on the inside, don’t make a huge deal out of it. Just say (or better yet, whisper), “excuse me,” and make your way out as quickly as possible.
Make out later.
Save the public-display-of-affection thing for later. Enough said.
Hire a sitter.
If your child isn’t old enough to see the movie, find a babysitter. Infants will sometimes sleep through a movie, but if yours starts to howl, catch the rest of the movie on DVD. If your child doesn’t have the attention span for the movie, don’t make the audience suffer. Just come back another time when you can leave your child in the care of someone else.
Saving one or two seats is okay. But if the theater is crowded, don’t save the whole row.
If the theater is crowded, leave your coat and other items in the car rather than spread them out. Refrain from propping your feet up on the seat in front of you, especially if someone is sitting there.
Rein in your tics.
Don’t kick the back of the seat in front you. Or crack your knuckle, tap your foot, or crack your jaw. Just relax and enjoy the movie. Some people have Tourette’s Syndrome and other issues that make it impossible to control the noises they make, but if you’re able to control your nervous tics, please do.
Avoid slurping, smacking, and other refreshment-related noises.
Let’s face it—popcorn is noisy; it’s hard to eat it without crunching. But that doesn’t mean you should chomp all your movie food and slurp your soda like a caveman. If you must chew gum, chew quietly.
Speaking of food, be subtle when sneaking it in.
If your personal moral code permits you to bring food from home to avoid theater-food price gouging, that’s your choice. But please don’t bring fast food or anything else that will smell up the theater. It’s normal to snack during a movie, but there’s no need to bring a multi-course dinner.
Don’t talk to the screen.
When you’re enjoying the movie, go ahead and clap or laugh. But if you’re the only one clapping, you might have missed a key plot point. Resist the temptation to engage with actors on the screen, telling them not to go back in the house or not to get into the car. Don’t shout obscenities at the characters, even if the movie is rated R. You never know when someone might have snuck in their underage child because they couldn’t get a sitter.
In general, the movie theater remains a remarkably civil place. In a society where people think it’s okay to drive while texting and yap on the cell phone while dining at a restaurant, it’s encouraging that we can still put a crowd of strangers in a darkened room and enjoy a movie in almost-silence.