Movie Theater Etiquette for the Modern Day Audience

Published 5 years ago by

etiquitte header Movie Theater Etiquette for the Modern Day Audience

It’s very sad that I have to write an article like this in our day and age. One would think that society has grown and matured over the years to the point where we wouldn’t have to be told how to act around other people. Well it would seem that courtesy has been thrown out the window and a new day is dawning where people couldn’t care less about others around them. Back in 2003, Screen Rant founder Vic Holtreman wrote a great rant about people talking during films. I’ve decided to expand on those thoughts.

We could talk for hours about how rude society has become and how we ultimately got to this point, but that is a discussion for a different time and place. I want to discuss some of the issues facing the modern day moviegoer and what they can do to make everyone’s movie watching experience more enjoyable. So, I will be discussing the 3 biggest problems in movie theaters today: cell phones, babies and talking during films.

Although technology has improved our lives, it sometimes degrades our theater going experience. Take cell phones for example: these are wonderful modern day gadgets that allow us to be in constant contact with everyone and everything around us. Car broke down? Use your cell phone to call a tow truck. Want to order a pizza and pick it up on your way home from work? You can do that too. Miss your mom, girlfriend or boyfriend and want to catch up with them? You can now do it from anywhere in the world. However, “anywhere” does NOT include the movie theater!

Cell phone interruptions has become such a problem in theaters that the original “Please refrain from talking during the movie” slides that used to be shown before a film have now been replaced with “Please silence your cell phone.” Unfortunately, people didn’t respond very well to that because it was still happening on a consistent basis; theater groups and studios then upped the ante by producing very elaborate fake movie “trailers” that grabbed the viewers attention. Some of them are so well done that I’ve often wanted to see an actual film based on those fake trailers.

cell phone pic Movie Theater Etiquette for the Modern Day Audience

The problem with cell phones (as I see it) is that people think they are the most important person in the world and therefore the “common” rules don’t apply to them. They think that their phone call is SO important that it just absolutely can’t be put off for two hours. Unless you are a doctor, detective or district attorney (it would seem those people are constantly getting phone calls that they just can’t ignore – at least in movies) then you don’t need your phone on. At the very least put it on vibrate; no one is impressed that you have the latest P. Diddy, Dixie Chicks or Adam Lambert song as your ring tone.

I can understand if it slips your mind and you forget to put it on mute or vibrate – accidents happen, but the sake of everything fuzzy, grab it and hit mute when it starts ringing! Don’t sit there and act as if you can’t hear it ringing. The people outside the theater can hear it ringing! And do not answer the phone and say “Hey bro/mom/honey. What’s up?” or “Hey, I can’t talk now.” Just mute the ringer, and let it go to voicemail – that’s what voicemail is for.

So be courteous please and remember to mute your ringer before going into the theater.  It shows how much you care about other people’s theater experience. After all, we paid to watch the film on the screen, not listen to your ringer jam out to MC Hammer’s “Too Legit to Quit”.

Click to learn why babies and movie theaters don’t mix…

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  1. “I understand that there are some times when it is absolutely necessary to talk to the person you are sitting with (to ask a question or make a comment).”

    There is NEVER a moment during a movie, with exception of someone falling under physical illness, when it is necessary to talk. Never. Lights go down, lips shut for the duration of the film. End. Of. Story.

  2. “I, for one, am really annoyed when someone I don’t know sits in the seat directly next to me in a mostly empty theater.”

    I was at the movies alone, going to see the first Transformers. I arrived early and had the entire theater to myself. Then, all of a sudden, this father walks in with about 5 kids in tow. Of course he walks right up to the row I was sitting in and starts his way over to me. To top it off, there were only 5 seats between me and the aisle and he had the nerve to ask me to move over 1 seat! Can you believe it?!? The entire theater is empty and he’s got the nerve to ask me to move when every other row is completely empty… If it wasn’t for the kids, I would have told him where to go…

  3. I’ve gotta’ say it’s the “lighthouse movie goer”. Those of you that think ‘well, I’m not answering my phone, I’m just monitoring Email or checking status Tweets”. Please. If taking 93 minutes of your life to watch a movie in reasonable silence as you sit in a chair and enjoy a grand tale isn’t enough to keep your attention, don’t notify the rest of us that you’re bored by illuminating your section of terratheater with your celly.

  4. Oh Gopd, this is rich… This is another reason why piracy is so big in my country: people just can’t stand the rude moviegoers. The biggest problem are the loud teens and tweens. I saw a woman take three young girls (the oldest around 10, the youngest around 5) to watch BURN AFTER READING. The kids were quiet, but I imagine the looks on their face when they saw George Clooney’s “special” chair. Morals, man, education… manners… it’s lacking in all societies and it’s ruining the movie-going experience.

  5. Wow you got some pretty bad movie experience. Where I am from people whit baby have their own projection night, problem solve. People whit cell phone ringing usually never make out of the theatre alive, so no one bring them. I guess I am lucky to never have to endure a loud talker, though I once had an heated argument whit the guy beside me during Star Wars: revenge of the sith.

  6. We have late night “Over 18″ screenings here in the UK which are quite good. And not just for the 15 certificate stuff and above (equivalent of a rated R film), but I’ve seen them for PG and even U (equivalent of a G) films. Why? So’s adults can go see a movie without having to worry about young children crying and annoying teenagers being annoying.

    My most annoying story. Seeing Watchmen earlier this year there were some rather “talkative” people behind me… couldn’t be more than about 5ish years younger than me (17-18). Now, they didn’t annoy me that much, wasn’t as if it was constant talking, but the giggling whenever they saw the big blue man’s little blue man was annoying.

    The worst part though… right at the end. Just as Veidt is starting his little bit of exposition, the part that explains everything, the guy behind me’s phone rings. And what’s more he PICK’S IT UP! Now, I’ve read the comic book, I knew the exposition, but I still wanted to see how the movie handled it and the guy had a good 2 minute conversation with whoever was on the phone.

    Now he was right behind me and I was having that internal struggle of “do I just sit here and do nothing, or do I do what every muscle in my body wants to do which is stand up, turn around grab the phone and hurl it against the wall?”.

    Needless to say, I did the former (he may have been 5 years younger, but I’m a tiny man and there were about 7 of them), but man was that annoying.

  7. Worst experience: SpiderMan3 (not the movie itself, no debates, please!) But the audio shorted out about 20 minutes into the film. Everyone in the theatre could tell but I was the only one who got up and grabbed an employee to check it out. I told him the “voices sound lower than the effects”, well, stupid employee, listens to the sound for a second, and points at the air conditioning vent and says that’s what I am hearing. Holy ****, I almost lost it right there and became a “that guy”. I’ve never been back to that theatre, and it’s the one five minutes from my house. I drive 20-30 minutes now for a better movie experience.

  8. I would also add when you eat in the theatre ,
    unrwap the plastic or remove the food from its packaging before the movie starts so the noise doesnt distract your fellow moviegoer.
    In fact, doing it before the trailers start isnt a bad idea either.
    A small but important part of Movie Etiquette.

  9. great article summmed it up well. I used to be a avid movie theater watcher i am the perfect movie goer allways silence my phone before i to the theater or leave itin the car. But i have had so many bad excperncies lately with rude people aka talkin very loud, eating loud so on so on there is so respect in people these days its gross. last movie i saw in theaters was harrpotter bc i just cant wait for that one so i went to a 12pm showing about 4 days after relase and these drunk kids come in and start commetning immidietly that harry likes the dark chocolate refferring the opening scence and then continues to rant about his sexual escpepades in front of children and many young people talking so loud so every could here how cool he thinks he is. AND thats when it hit me likea brick wall no more movie theaters ever i have completly stoped going and wait till i can watch the movie in complete peace and quite in my own home theater wich i had to massivly upgrade of course. So as a avid moviegoer in the past i can say that i will never buy a ticket for movie ever again minus chcikflicks to keep the girl happy who cares then right. point being its to late for society in my opinion there is far more doughbags out there then functiong members of scoiety like us here at screenrant.

  10. my latest bad experience was a week and a half ago when i went to watch Paranormal Activity,,,

    i went to a theater close to Ohio State University
    what a pain!

    the average attendee was like 20… and OMG they wouldnt shut up… and when they did, they interacted too much with the movie.. screamed way to much, moaned, and even 2 people ran out the theater…

  11. Too bad theaters wont stop the film during these interruptions. Then maybe ignorant ass people would stay the hell home

  12. My experience at Pananormal Activity last week was completely ruined by a group of high-schoolers who felt the need to crack jokes at a conversation pitch (none of which were even slightly witty or funny) through the entire movie, especially the night sequences. I couldn’t believe how utterly rude and inconsiderate they were. It totally prevented me from suspending disbelief, getting into the movie and taking the ride. It constantly brought me out of the moment. I will never get to see it again for the first time and experience the surprise ending the way it was intended to be enjoyed. It was $22 wasted for me and my date. If you don’t like the movie, fine; but don’t ruin my experience too. Just my $0.02.

  13. Why I hate going to the movies sometimes, all of the above.

    But my worst pet peeve is when I see people in their chairs and have their feet up on top of the seat in front of them. I want to strangle these people. I even see them do this when its almost a full house too, and other movie goers are made to feel uncomfortable having to ask them to put their feet down so they can sit in those seats.

    Drives effin crazy!!!!!!!!

  14. I use to work for a theatre. So I have heard all the horror stories and complaints. The on the sticks out.. We had to kick out a couple for lewd behavior. And not the normal making out in a theatre.. Try explaining that to your Boss.

  15. This is a great article, Paul, but it is a shame that you had to write it. Unfortunately, the people who need to read this aren’t avid movie buffs like the folks who read this site. We’ve all experienced these problems in the theater, and IMO, the screaming kids are the worst. I try to see movies during the week during the day while kids are in school. There usually aren’t too many people in the theater then, anyway.

    Between the rudeness of the oblivious moviegoer and the prices of the tickets and concessions, I tend to watch more movies at home now. Plasma TV+surround sound+pause button=enjoyable movie experience.

  16. People who bring Babies to a midnight showing deserve a “blanket party” afterwords.

  17. Gary: “I would also add when you eat in the theatre ,
    unrwap the plastic or remove the food from its packaging before the movie starts”

    This is the ONE that seems to get me every time!!!!

  18. the 3rd point is the most notable in australia, people will sit and literally talk about last night during the movie no bull, i mean wtf go outside and talk about that not during a movie that i payed for idiots.

    i for one am (sometimes) the loud guy, but when you watch movies like terminator salvation one cannot help but laugh and taught the movie for the whole pain staking 2 or so hours :-)

    but in general i dont see people that suit any of your points (non the less im sure they exist just not when im around >:-) )

    i really hate the groups of teens that come in and say stupid one liners during quite moments in the movie, no matter how crap it is e.g (it didnt really happen) “luke i am your father”
    “hahaha sucked in douche bag”

    see what i mean annoying as hell, especially when they think its funny and continue laughing with their friends and everyone else is like wtf

  19. I’m a student living in a college town. College aged kids make up like 60 percent of the population so every time I go to the theater I get the talking issues.

    But that doesn’t even bother me all that much because I have yet to go see a movie where a guy was talking super loudly; they almost always do it in the semi-hushed, lean close to the guy next to you way. Not THAT annoying.

    And at this point, who actually ever gets a phone call? I’m serious here, if you’re anywhere from 16 to 24 you’re probably primarily getting texts. Most people are smart enough to shut off their ringers, but that doesn’t stop them from texting. And those dang illuminated cell phone screens are my biggest theater going pet peeve.

  20. You didn’t mention another cellphone problem that is just as bad as talking on the thing: just LOOKING at it to text or go online. The LIGHT emitted from those things is instantly distracting and takes neighbors out of their movie watching experience. It happens throughout movies and is INCREDIBLY obnoxious. I actually RARELY hear someone talk on their phone during the movie, but I always see cellphone lights

  21. Joshi, I had a similar experience in a late-night showing of Watchmen. Unluckily for phoneboy, his went off at the exact moment when the film went belly-up for me: the giant Dr Manhattan in Vietnam (fine) accompanied by Wagner’s Ride Of The Valkyries (not so fine). My blood was already starting to boil when the ringtone started several rows behind me, cut out, then started again and showed no sign of stopping. I was sitting there in slack-jawed horror at what was taking place in front of and behind me, and the fact that no-one near this character was doing anything about it. The red haze descended, I stood up, located him – his troll features illuminated by the instrument of his own downfall – and bellowed at him like Christian Bale doing the Batman voice on a bottle of whisky. It didn’t go off again. He was with a group, I just had one mate with me, and I was actually expecting it to kick off afterwards…but not a dicky bird out of any of them when the place was emptying.

    Half the time I think it’s just boundary-pushing swine who are genuinely astonished when someone draws a line in the sand. Anything else (like common human decency and regard for others) they see as a weakness to be encroached upon at will.

    Nowhereman, LOVE the flashlight idea. That’s genius.

    Watching a movie. Eating food. I see no connection between these two activities.

  22. My most recent bad movie theater experience was when I went to see “Where The Wild Things Are” and had the misfortune of having a 7 year old boy kick the back of my chair the ENTIRE TIME. It ticked me off because it wasn’t even a movie for kids really. Every review of the movie clearly says “This is not a movie for kids”, and even Spike Jonze said “This is a movie for parents to see, and maybe SOME kids”. The kid sitting behind me was apparently not part of the “some” he was referring to. Anyway, every time I felt the kid kick my chair I would lean back as hard as I could so the back of my chair would push on him, and that settled him down for about 10 minutes each time until he started doing it again. Also him and his little friend started giggling at everything
    in the movie, until Carol went crazy. You should have heard how silent they got!! I wonder what they told their mom in the car on the way home because I could tell they were shocked. The thing that made me mad though was that the mom obviously didn’t research the movie to see if it was appropriate to take her kids to go see, I think they would have been better off seeing “Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs”.

    The worst behavior I’ve seen in a theater was when I went to see “The Haunted Mansion”. Of course the movie wasn’t very good, but the guys behind me thought it’d be funny to yell every bit of profanity they knew, in a DISNEY movie!!! Someone complained and the usher had to walk in and ask them to leave which made it even MORE distracting.

    Another experience was when I went to see “The Dark Knight” with a friend of mine. I’d never seen a movie with him before, but I will probably never see another with him. First of all he got there late, and during the movie (MORE THAN ONCE MIGHT I ADD) he picked up his cell phone and had a conversation DURING the movie. Later he even sent some text messages. His phone was on vibrate, but still hearing him talk on the phone right next to me was a bit of a distraction. Also he definitely picked the wrong movie to do it in. It was the Friday the movie opened while I was decked out with full Joker face makeup after waiting more than a year to see this movie. The next day I went and saw it again though, but still.

    Here’s another story where I actually seemed like the bad guy. Me and a different friend of mine went to see “Hancock” and if you’ve seen it you know it gets weird about half way through it. I was confused so I whispered to my friend and tried to find out what was going on, and an older guy in front of us turns around and tells us to be quiet. Maybe what I did was wrong, but it’s not my fault he’s easily amused by Will Smith superhero movies.

    This is my last story (I didn’t realize I had so many!) Me, my dad, my mom, and my little brother went to see “Ice Age” and these kids behind us were throwing popcorn. I was young at the time and I was being hit in the head with the flying popcorn, so my mother turned around and politely asked the children to stop. This is where it gets good… Their trashy mom looks at my mom and gets all defensive and says “Did you just tell my kids what to do?” andmy mom tries to explain to her that her kids were being rowdy and the woman says “Do you wanna take this outside?” CAN YOU BELIEVE IT?!? Not only was she letting her children misbehave in the theater, but she DEFENDED their bad behavior AND threatened my mother!! I wish I’d been older when this occurred so I could have told that woman off!

    Well… Those are my stories. Hopefully I won’t have to experience many more like these.

  23. I literally just wrote an article on this topic for my college english class a few days ago

  24. During the police chase sceen, of Star Trek, my phone started to suppliment with it’s own siren noises. I didn’t even turn it off for like 10 seconds because I knew I turned off my phone and it couldn’t be mine. As soon as I realized it was alarm going off, I yanked the battery out. Then, when I got home, I ran a quick test and, sure enough, my stupid phone turns itself on for scheduled alarms. Now movie goings mean some quality time apart for my phone and its battery.

  25. The one thing I tend to do sometimes that might annoy some people is that I laugh out loud at things that might not have been intended to be funny, haha.

    I remember watching The Kingdom in theater, in the row behind us was a large group of hispanic people. I don’t know what it is, but hispanic people are typically “loud talkers.” Meaning their “normal” volume is close to yelling for the rest of us. Anyway, they were talking all through the beginning terrorist attack scene. Now it’s one thing if they were whispering, which would probably be just as annoying or more, but at least it would show that they were somewhat “trying” not to be loud, but no, they were just talking as if they were at home and nobody else was bothered by it…

    Anyway, after a few minutes of them just chattering away in their crazy language, my friend loudly said to me “Hey Ken, that was a cool explosion wasn’t it?!” And I responded loudly “Yah man, that was very cool! I’m so glad we’re watching this at home so we can talk loudly without it being considered rude or anything!” I think they got the point because they shut up after that… lol

    Another time was during Iron Man, there was a guy sitting next to me, well, with one empty seat between us, and he was just a big nasty slob. He was eating candy, cookies, etc. and just throwing the wrappers on the floor. Like not like they accidentally fell out of his hands, but he will unwrap something, eat it, then throw the wrapper on the floor in front of him. Anyway, that was annoying but not the worst.

    Halfway through the movie, his phone starts ringing. Of course you can already tell that he’s not someone considerate enough to turn his cell phone off like you or I do before a movie… Anyway, so it rings, and rings, and rings, and rings, and he must not have voicemail because it rings a lot. He finally takes his phone out of his pocket, with all of the crumbs and whatever all over him… Now you can see a lot of people around him have annoyed looks on their faces looking at him, but at least now he’s FINALLY going to at least silence the ringing… right?? NO, he holds the phone in front of his face, STILL RINGING!! (even if you don’t want to hang up on someone, just pressing a button will at least silence the ringing!) Now it’s ringing even louder since it’s out of his pocket, and he continues to just look at it like it takes him 4 minutes to read who’s calling him. So I finally turn and say to him “hey, are you going to turn that off or what??”

    Then it gets weird, he turns and puts the phone up to my face like he thinks the light from the phone is blinding me… So I was like (with a really sarcastic tone) “Oh no… you’re blinding me, I am soooo blinded” As I reach into my holster… light holster, lol, for my 80 lumen LED Surefire light and proceeded to shine that right into his eyes. Now THAT’s how you blind someone… And apparently that nasty fat slob couldn’t think of anything else so he just turned off his phone and didn’t say anything after that…

    And there were many other times when there was a group of kids making noise where out of my friends, it’s usually me and one other who would actually say something to them. Sometimes being aggressive is the only way to get people to listen, and it usually works, even if they think they are “tough kids” I guess there is enough of us and our aggressive tone kind of makes them think twice about making threats toward us, so they usually shut up.

    But the last 10 times I’ve been to a theater I’ve stopped going to that theater where all of the kids always go. I usually go to another one that’s much quieter, even on Friday night when a big movie has opened. Haven’t had an issue there yet…


    I would have simply told him no, you’re not required to move because he asked. “Inform” him of all of the empty rows in front and behind the one you’re sitting in. End of story. What a dumbass he was…


    I put my feet up after the movie has started and I’ve checked to make sure the seats in front of me are empty, but that’s only because the theater I go to has stadium seating, so my feet are not in my view much less in the way of those behind me since the seats only get higher the further back you go, so my feet are in no way obstructing the screen for anyone. And if anyone arrives late and are going toward the seats I have my feet on, I put them down before they even have to ask and wait to see if they are taking those seats or not.

  26. I love reading everyones experiences their funny.
    My personal biggest pet peeve is the whole sitting right next to you if there is a whole open row. Like why do people feel the need to sit right beside me its just uncomfortable sitting next to a stranger especially when its some middle aged overweight yahoo whos there by himself… Then I sit there and I’m like why is this guy here by himself at the theater on campus? what a creep.

    And with the talking thing if someone is being obnoxious I usually just tell them to shut up. Twice though this his led to tensions rising and once I had my a$$ handed to me so telling someone to shut it and getting smart isn’t always the best way to handle it. Some lessons are learned the tough way..

  27. @Ken J

    One phone story: Phone ringing in theater during movie – person actually ANSWERS it and starts talking. I just looked over and “Are you kidding me??”

    They hung up.


  28. Some really interestings posts here. Maybe things are done differently in the UK but when I went to see The Grudge, at a Vue cinema, there were some annoying teens in the back row. Someone went and complained, the lights went up and all ten or so of them were ejected by security. An apology was made by management who were waiting, at the end, with free tickets to any future performance for every cinema goer.
    Surely that isn’t an isolated incident?
    It’s true though that arseholes who ruin the films are a catalyst for people preferring to download or buy pirate copies etc. It’s not right but it’s a factor.
    Too many people truly believe that the world was created “just for them”.
    There was a great tale on here a while ago about the kid sat with his family who wouldn’t shut up and a gun was pulled on them, by someone sat behind, to get them to be quiet. The nutter was rightly locked up but I’d have loved to have seen the picture on the brats face. I’ll bet he doesn’t talk during a performance now. Or even go for that matter…