The 5 Worst Movie Theater Disruptions

As featured on the 300th edition of /Film's "Page 2".

Moviegoing should be strictly sacred. Unless you have a swanky home arrangement like Martin Scorsese's, paying to sit (hopefully comfortably) in a dark room and enjoy big screen presentation with high volume surround sound is just about the only way to become wholly absorbed in a film and experience, for better or for worse, motion picture artists' visions the way they are intended. That's the way you're supposed to be able to become absorbed, anyway, but pure experiences are becoming more and more elusive, it seems.

Finances allowing, I've been a frequent cinema patron for many years and where at one point hearing a baby cry before it's escorted out seemed bad, now such an event would be welcome in exchange for the persistent, film-ruining behavior that goes on more and more as people are becoming less and less reverent of multiplex sanctity. Just yesterday I walked out of a showing of "The Debt" and had a date night to "Our Idiot Brother" all but wasted, both thanks to appallingly inconsiderate audience members. Before that I can hardly remember the last time I sat through pre-show entertainment without feeling compelled to text someone to the effect of, "OMG, you wouldn't believe the jackasses sitting behind me" (before switching my phone to silent - not vibrate - if not turning it off entirely, of course). They do always seem to sit right behind you, don't they?

Now having a day job at a theater I can appreciate how difficult it is for theater personell to maintain standards of appropriate behavior in any given number of auditoriums. But really, why is it so hard as a patron to just shush people, even politely? Well, speaking only personally since clearly not everyone has these trivial social hang-ups and barring the awkward-by-default scenario calling for your first interaction with a stranger you can barely see to be of some degree of condescension, it's a total Catch-22. I'm damned if I don't say anything because, obviously, the issue persists, but I'm plagued if I do speak up because then I birth an elephant in the room that threatens to become even more distracting. And no, shooting looks doesn't work - the offenders are always enjoying themselves far too much to recognize the theater full of respectful customers they're driving up a wall.

Even the already infamous Alamo Drafthouse message only goes so far. I mean, what do we need, giant flashing banners demanding things like, "Keep your mouth shut!"? Beefy underground nightclub bouncer types on every aisle glaring moviegoers into obedience? Is there a way to solve this awful state of the everyday cinema experience without creating further disturbance? In the immortal words of Kermit T. Frog, sheesh.

So, in what will hopefully provide some catharsis for myself and other film fans conscious enough of others to adhere to common decency even in the face of a sub-par movie, here are what I consider the five worst movie theater disruptions. I'll try not to get tangential about how on top of all this fewer and fewer theaters seem to even care about presentation integrity, but really, what is up with-- nope, not gonna go there this time.

These are more common issues, so the woman who got hauled out of a "Rear Window" revival the other day for loudly prancing up and down the stadium seating after mixing too much alcohol with her medication doesn't count, nor does the kid in my "Captain America" showing who brought a talking Cap doll to play with throughout (his Milk Duds-eating habits absolutely do, however, to be sure). I might also mention my luck in that I've never had to deal with someone kicking my chair, so if you have your own rant on chair kickery or anything else you feel I've missed, please have at it in the comments section.

Buckle in... and switch off your damn cell phone... it's about to get spiteful.

Phone Booth
Oh, cell phones are only at number five? Sure, they're certainly a problem, but I think offenders finally seem to be getting the picture on this one. In this ever-increasingly mobile-reliant society I'm actually seeing less small, obstructive screens light up or play the latest remix of "Poker Face" in the middle of a show. If people seemingly must check their phones - maybe to keep in touch with a newbie babysitter, who knows - I've also noticed they often have the decency conceal the light beneath a layer of clothing or a cupped hand. Even if a cell user is totally inconsiderate, at least, more often than not, anyway, they usually put the device away in due time.

What is entirely unacceptable here is leaving your sound on (I don't care what you think, the supplemental Lady Gaga soundtrack is not enhancing Johnny Depp's performance) or using the thing as a flashlight. Of course, as many of these list items do, cell phone abuse invites further disruption. I've seen a game of what one might call flashlight phone tag run in and out of an auditorium. There's also the multiplex version of leadfoot - stomping in to the wrong screen halfway through a show, shining your phone at the audience and asking at normal volume, "Is this "The Help"?" And let's not forget the guy who spends ten minutes pecking a textese novella only to hit "send" and immediately ask what he missed.

Then there's that woman who checked her voicemail on speakerphone during "The Tree of Life". She's special.

You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger
Hey, brief pleasantries or practical comments are fine. For example, it's nice when someone apologetically warns you pre-show that they're prone to frequent restroom breaks. I found it more comfortable to ask the woman who just had to sit right next to me almost an hour before "The Tree of Life" began if she was a fan of Terence Malick's other work rather than sit there in silence wondering why she couldn't have just gone one row back. But people, I'm not your new best friend. Yes, kind sir with the long hair, braces and notebook full of doodles you just had to share with me, I was excited to see "Resident Evil: Afterlife" a second time and to have brought my girlfriend along for the ride. That didn't mean to nudge me every time something cool happened.

Now, there are exceptions to this. Slasher movie audiences such as those exaggeratively depicted in the opening sequence of "Scream 2" get a pass. Patrick Lussier's and Marcus Nispel's respective remakes of "My Bloody Valentine" and "Friday the 13th" have gone down as two of the most fun cinema experiences I've had thanks to raucous audiences having a blast with the films including immediate neighbors asking for high-fives every time Jason scored another notch on his machete. Midnight shows also catch some slack, as everyone knows it's impractical to be up and out that late to see a movie you could just catch at any time the next day so between whimsical costumes and insomnious deliria, making a few friends is par for the course. I made some good chums, myself, at a midnight screening of "The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch & the Wardrobe". We hooked up again for Peter Jackson's "King Kong" later that same year before I irrationally bailed on them the following January for want to avoid "Underworld: Evolution" (which I wound up seeing anyway before going back twice for in-theater rewatches as it unexpectedly sparked the dawn of a Kate Beckinsale obsession). My excuse? "I'm so sorry guys, I was running late and there must be this massive pile-up at the intersection outside the theater or something; I can't get in to the parking lot. I can hardly see past all the rubberneckers... just go on ahead without me!" Yeah, I'm not proud of that one.

The Whistleblower
Listen guy, you came to a rated "R" movie. What did you expect? Quit dramatically covering your ears each time a curse word is uttered. Cut out the eye-covering act whenever sex or violence is on the screen. Hell, even "G" movies have sexual references and "mild, animated peril" these days - either stick to "Winnie the Pooh" or just stay home and watch your "VeggieTales". I'm sick of hearing "Well I never... I brought my 8-year-old to this!" Yes, ma'am, it's clearly the film's fault you thought "Cowboys & Aliens", rated "PG-13" for intense sequences of western and sci-fi action and violence, could possibly be suitable subject matter under your overbearingly content-sensitive shelter. Please, comment louder each time blood sprays up in Daniel Craig's face. Oh, and never mind that your child is audibly confused by the goings-on every five minutes or so... he doesn't need to be taught to understand certain aspects of humanity and entertainment he's now been graphically exposed to by his parent, let alone taught proper theater etiquette. He simply needs further sheltering. Keep up the good work!

Every so often someone will ask me if a film features any homosexual characters. If I respond affirmatively, they will adamantly express disgust and avoid the picture in question. Their unfairly closed-minded perspective aside, though, at least they're educating themselves as to the content of a film prior to entering. If preventing your eyes and ears from experiencing certain perspectives and images is important to you, you have to read up before going in and fussing about how shocked you are a Smurf just referenced his pubic hair. It's more your insipidity that bothers me than your actual resulting disruptions, but still... button it.

Look Who's Talking
Little can reduce a would-be engrossing film to mere images on a screen better than some oblivious stranger's running commentary. What makes it worse is that these people are usually too distracted by themselves to know what's going on in the flick, leading to further chin-wagging. "What did Angelina just say?" "Why is the dog skinned and hanging in the closet?" "How'd it get burned? How'd it get burned??" Sometimes it's fun to talk through a movie, especially if that movie is something like "Snakes on a Plane", but please keep this sort of thing to an inaudible whisper... or your friggin' living room.

Isolated comments from self-impressed smart-asses used to bother me more. Some examples:

"Wait, I changed my mind!"
-High schooler, after the climactic moment of Tom Cruise and Ken Watanabe's relationship in "The Last Samurai"

"When's Colin Farrell gonna start slaughtering the funny-talking Indians?"
-College mouthbreathers, coincidentally in both theatrical viewings of "The New World"

"Boom, landmine! Oh wait, not this time. Oorah!"
-Ex-Marine, about a thousand times over throughout the course of "Jarhead"

"Did they switch reels with a nature documentary? Where's Brad Pitt?"
-Retiree, during the evolution and/or creation sequence of "The Tree of Life"

These sorts of comments still take me out of certain moments, but they're nothing compared to the obnoxiously self-centered verbosity of perpetual blabbers. I'm talking to you, the slovenly cow who sat next to me in "Our Idiot Brother" last night, incessantly chatting it up with her friend at regular volume. Of course, you're far from the first offender I've had to endure. I almost waited in the parking lot to confront you afterwards, but I have this weird thing about not wanted to get arrested.

I'm also talking to you, the trio of birthday bimbos who treated a recent showing as if it were their own private party, indignantly declaring my immaturity and ineligibility as a sexual partner upon my eventual request for them to shut their drunk mouths. As the declaration always goes, "I paid to see this movie!" Yeah, you know what? I don't care if it's your birthday - I paid to see it, too. So unless you want to personally reimburse my ticket price, as the chief guard in "A Clockwork Orange" so concisely puts it, "Shut your filthy hole, you scum!"

In-theater tongue-flapping can lead to another kind of rude cinema behavior, as perpetrators are typically the ones more apt to walk out, past the line of customers waiting to walk in, and proclaim, "I can't believe Charlize was a transvestite werewolf spy the whole time before getting hit by that bus!"

Pig in the City
Something's worse than in-theater talkers? It may be more a personal ranking, but I'd be shocked if any given person wasn't at all bothered by this number one worst movie theater disruption.

Sloppy eaters drive me insane in less than a heartbeat anyway. All it takes is one disgusting lip-smack and I see proverbial red. Get me in a theater looking forward to disappearing into a film and... screestch... screestch... screestch... are you serious? Not only are you apparently incapable of closing your lips while you eat, you insist upon working through your 100oz barrel of "golden flavoring"-slathered popcorn one irritating kernel at a time? Oh wait, thank goodness, you've given the popcorn a rest... but what's that I now hear? The reckless tearing open of a candy wrapper? And of course, you have to noisily suck every last drop of juice out of each individual Skittle before gulping and proceeding to slurp the candy coating from between your teeth. I walked out of "The Debt" yesterday primarily due to one boorish hog of a woman sitting next to me, but she was only one of at least three helping generate a chorus of screestches and schlucks. Man, even the "Idiot Brother" idiot had the decency to eat her quesadilla quietly before launching in to a feature-length conversation.

Furthermore, nasty eaters are that much more difficult to shush, seeing as your standard, harsh, "SHH!" won't register with them - they're 100% blind to the rude nature of their barbaric habits.

I know multiplexes make all their money at the concession stand, but why do we really need popcorn, etcetera, anyway? I mean, really? Is it simply to give our hands and mouths something to do to keep us sitting still through 2 hours we normally would be only half-minding from the comfort of our own La-Z-Boys?

Ah, now I feel... well, slightly better (that's Stallone mowing down a disagreeable audience in "Death Race 2,000", by the way). So please, people, be respectful of your fellow moviegoers. If being a pest is the only way you enjoy film, stick to renting. Thank you for reading, and, sincerely, thank you for shutting the hell up.