Nothing compares to the experience of seeing a movie in the theater. The big screen, the surround sound, the whole ambiance — it adds up to something uniquely enjoyable. A lot of movies, particularly comedies and horror films, play better when you watch them with other people, too. Even if you have the fanciest home theater hookup in the world, there’s still an X-factor that just can’t be replicated in your house. Because moviegoing is so much fun, you may not be consciously aware of all the things happening around you at the theater. That’s where this list comes in.
We’re here to blow the lid off the behind-the-scenes secrets of the multiplex. And believe us, there are quite a few of them! We’ve got the inside scoop about business practices, operating procedures, things your fellow moviegoers are doing in the dark, and more. We know some theater personnel who gave us juicy scoops that we’re excited to share with you. Once you know these hidden facts, we think you’ll look at your local cinema in a whole new light, and hopefully have a renewed appreciation for how it works. Grab a tub of popcorn and settle in, because we’re not holding back.
Here are 15 Secrets Revealed About What REALLY Goes On In Movie Theaters.
15. They’re subliminally trying to sell you concessions
Popcorn, candy, and soda have been associated with movie theaters almost from the beginning. These days, most theater chains offer up expanded menus that go far beyond those basics, including edible items like nachos, pizza, and french fries. If you find that your hunger level increases whenever you go to the cinema, it’s no mistake. They use a variety of almost subliminal tactics to entice you to purchase food.
For starters, most theaters are physically set up in such a way that you have to pass by the concession stand. This ensures that you see (and smell) the food items for sale. Pre-movie bumpers that feature images of hot popcorn and ice cold soda are also designed to inspire an urge to run out for snacks before the feature starts. There are even theaters with vents that pump the smell emanating from the popcorn machine directly into the auditoriums, so that you find yourself getting hungry as you watch.
14. There’s no one in the projection booth
If you’ve ever been to the movies and had a problem — such as the film being out of focus or the projector stopping — you may have hollered up to the person in the projection booth to do something about it, or heard other patrons yelling for attention. That’s a futile gesture. Odds are, there’s nobody up there.
With multiplexes often containing a dozen or more auditoriums, it’s not economically feasible to have someone upstairs monitoring each film as it plays. At best, there might be one person for all of them combined. Digital projection technology also means that the movies literally start themselves. Therefore, theater employees might not even go into the projection room unless there’s some specific reason requiring them to. So if you’ve got an issue at your showing, you’ll have to go out and locate a staffer to assist.
13. People are trying to pirate the movies
Anti-piracy efforts are serious business. Studios spend millions (and sometimes hundreds of millions) of dollars to produce and market their films. They don’t want anybody videotaping them and putting them online for everyone to see for free. That doesn’t mean people don’t try, of course. Cell phone cameras and tiny camcorders have made it a little easier to attempt piracy. Theaters hate this practice as much as studios, because it cuts into their business.
For that reason, they’re fighting back. Employees will often do “sweeps” mid-movie, entering the auditorium to make sure no one is pointing a camera of any sort at the screen. Penalties for piracy can be stiff. Earlier this year, two Maryland men were caught trying to pirate The Fate of the Furious. The manager called the police, who arrested the duo. They are currently facing a year in prison and/or a $2,500 fine for their actions. Clearly, it’s not worth the price you have to pay if caught.
12. Concession prices are high for a reason
If there’s a common complaint about going to the movies, it’s the high price of concessions. Popcorn literally costs pennies to make, yet it’s sold for at least four or five dollars a bag. Same with soda. You can buy several two liter bottles for the same price as a “regular” sized drink at the cinema. And what’s up with boxes of candy that are four times as expensive as they would be if you purchased them at the grocery store?
The answer is simple. Theaters rely on concessions to make money. When it comes to ticket sales, they make comparatively little. Studios demand the lion’s share of ticket prices, often commanding a minimum of 70% of box office revenue, and sometimes more if they’ve got an especially in-demand movie like Wonder Woman. That means the sale of concessions is largely what pays all the bills. Although it can be annoying to pay exorbitant prices for snacks, just remember that by doing so, you are helping the theater to continue operating, allowing you to keep enjoying movies there.
11. Some viewers are seriously drunk
One of the hot recent trends in the movie exhibition business is making alcohol available. You’ll find bars in some cinemas, where you can enjoy an adult beverage before or after the show. Others will actually deliver booze right to your seat. Needless to say, there are people who abuse such amenities. They may also already be drunk when they arrive at the theater. Either way, intoxicated patrons can be a real problem.
In December of 2016, a drunk mother was arrested after passing out on a staircase inside a Texas movie theater, leaving her four children unattended. That same month, an Oregon man did some imbibing, then passed out twenty minutes into Rogue One. When he awoke, he was stunned to find that the theater had closed for the night, leaving him locked inside. (He was released after calling 911.) In March of this year, a drunk Florida man was arrested for disorderly conduct after cursing at fellow patrons of Beauty and the Beast. These are just a few of the publicly reported examples of blitzed audience members causing trouble.
10. Sometimes the wrong previews are shown
Even with the most up-to-date projection technology, there’s a human factor involved in showing movies. Someone has to enter the information into the computer so that the projector knows what to play. That has led to some rather distressing experiences for parents when previews for adult-oriented films have accidentally been placed ahead of family films.
In 2016, a California theater showed the trailer for the very raunchy Seth Rogen animated comedy Sausage Party to an audience of children waiting to see Pixar’s Finding Dory. (For his part, Rogen was greatly amused by this error.) The manager chalked the mistake up to the cartoon sequel being abruptly moved to a larger auditorium to accommodate the crowds, resulting in the wrong trailers being started. Even more horrifically, a bunch of Florida children were exposed to the trailer for Lars Von Trier’s sexually-explicit Nymphomaniac as they waited to see Disney’s Frozen. If you’ve ever seen that red-band trailer, you know just how traumatized those kids must have been — and how incensed the parents were.
9. Bad dates take place
Taking a date to the movies is a pretty common thing to do, especially in the early stages when you’re just getting to know someone. You get to do something fun, while also ensuring you have something to talk about afterward. Movie dates can even provide an important window into the behaviors of your partner, helping you figure out if the other person is right or very, very wrong for you.
Perhaps the most blatant recent example of a disastrous movie date came in May 2017. A Texas man took a woman on a first date to see Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. She repeatedly texted during the film, which he found distracting. The guy told her to take her phone outside if she was going to text. The woman did indeed go outside — she hopped in her car and drove off, leaving him stranded. He responded by suing her for $17.31, the cost of her ticket. The incident went viral, leading to a lot of ridicule for both individuals. Let’s be honest, though: can’t all of us relate to one side or the other?
8. Fainting occurs at intense movies
What’s the most intense reaction you’ve ever had to a film? Have you ever had to look away from the screen because what you were seeing was too horrific? Have you ever screamed or run out into the lobby? Did you ever faint? Even if you haven’t passed out, other people have. There are many documented cases of sensitive viewers fainting from what they saw, going all the way back to the shower scene in Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho.
More recently, the cannibalism-themed horror flick Raw caused several viewers to drop when it premiered at the 2016 Toronto International Film Festival. One particularly unlucky gentleman is reported to have hit his head on a wall on his way to the floor. And it’s not just horror movies that cause fainting. The James Franco drama 127 Hours, in which the actor is shown graphically cutting through nerves to sever his own arm, similarly had some viewers passing out in the aisles. The next big make-’em-faint movie is yet to be determined, but who knows — it could be you who succumbs!
7. Creative means are used to prevent teens from sneaking into R-rated films
It’s a long-standing problem. Theaters are not supposed to allow anyone under the age of 17 into R-rated movies unless they are accompanied by a parent or adult guardian. Of course, there are a few theaters that simply don’t care, but most try to adhere to that rule, if for no other reason than to avoid getting parents angry at them. Teens are teens, though, and they try mightily to sneak into the R-rated films they want to see.
Cinemas have some rather creative means of policing such activity. It’s common practice to have security cameras installed for a variety of reasons, including keeping an eye on who’s entering the various auditoriums. Sometimes theater staff will come in during the movie to make sure everyone in the crowd is of proper age. And if there’s a movie they know teens will really be itching to get into, they may intentionally put it in an auditorium near the area where your tickets are taken so the person ripping them can monitor the situation.
6. Celebrities occasionally turn out to see their own movies
Actors work really hard making movies, so naturally, they have great curiosity about how audiences will react to their efforts. If you live in a major city, particularly New York or Los Angeles, you might be lucky enough to catch one of them sneaking into their own movies to gauge the response. A surprise appearance is also a gift to the fans.
Will Smith has acknowledged in interviews that he sometimes does this. Gal Godot and Chris Pine recently crashed an NYC screening of Wonder Woman. Josh Gad did the same thing for Beauty and the Beast, as did Brad Pitt for World War Z and Ryan Reynolds for Deadpool. Channing Tatum took things a step further, disguising himself before treating a theater full of Magic Mike XXL fans to an impromptu dance. Keep your eyes peeled. You might spot one of your favorite stars when you check out their new film.
5. Patrons are finding new ways of smuggling in food
It’s a time-honored tradition to sneak food and drink into movie theaters. Maybe you’ve got a tight budget and can’t afford concession stand snacks, or maybe the theater simply doesn’t offer what you’re hungry or thirsty for. Smuggling in snacks requires a certain amount of creativity, so as not to get caught. A recent viral video shows a couple loading up an empty baby car seat with food, which they effortlessly carry into the cinema. Another young woman crammed a veritable grocery store into an oversized handbag.
As for what people are slipping in, fast food items are popular, and that includes some brave souls who somehow get entire pizzas past the ticket-taker. A group of girlfriends used social media to document how they brought in watermelons by slipping them under their shirts and pretending to be pregnant. And let’s not forget about an incident this summer that got some media attention, in which a woman put spaghetti into Ziplock bags to munch on during a movie.
4. 3D is making some viewers physically ill
The 3D phenomenon hit a fever pitch right after the release of James Cameron’s Avatar. There have been a few really notable must-see-in-3D hits since then, but the format has steadily waned in popularity overall. Certainly, some of that is attributable to the higher ticket price for 3D movies. Having to wear those glasses the entire time is also part of it.
There’s also the little fact that 3D makes some people physically ill. That’s because not everyone’s system can handle the effect. According to researchers, when watching something in 3D, your eyes send a message to your brain suggesting that your body is moving. However, the inner ear, which contains fluid that senses motion, is reporting the exact opposite, because you are, in fact, seated. The result, for those who are sensitive to this particular mixed message, is a sensation of nausea. If you’re at a 3D film, you may notice that some of the folks around you are getting a little queasy from the experience for this very reason.
3. People are getting their freak on
Movie theaters are dark. That makes them an ideal location for a little harmless fooling around. If you patronize a theater with any sort of regularity, you’ve undoubtedly witnessed a couple of teenagers breathlessly making out in the back row. You may have even caught some rambunctious couples doing it. Hey, it happens. And sometimes other stuff happens, too.
People having sex in cinemas isn’t super-common, but it’s not unheard of, either. A Wyoming couple was arrested for knocking boots during Godzilla in 2014. That same year, a couple in Texas ran afoul of the law after getting it on inside a theater’s bathroom. Even Kim Kardashian has acknowledged that a public movie theater is the craziest place she ever did it. Those unfortunate souls who don’t have a partner get in on the action anyway, like the guy in France who got self-amorous during Fifty Shades Darker. A New Jersey man recently made headlines after doing likewise during The Emoji Movie. Ask just about any theater employee, and they’ll have at least one story about someone getting frisky at their workplace.
2. Fights are breaking out
Fights can, and do, break out just about anywhere. For some reason, they seem to happen in movie theaters on a semi-regular basis. We admit, there can be lots of annoyances. It’s shocking how many people pay to see a movie and then don’t pay attention to it because they’re talking, using their phone, or generally inconveniencing others. The more crowded a theater is, the more likely that people will get on each other’s nerves.
Go on YouTube and search for “movie theater fights”, and you’ll have hours and hours of viewing entertainment at your disposal. Whether it’s because someone put their feet on the seat in front of them, someone took someone else’s parking space, a person shows up late and wants everyone in the row to move down, or two dudebros who just decided they’d had enough of each other, there’s more mano-a-mano action than you’ll find six back-to-back viewings of Fight Club.
1. Theater chains are working overtime to improve the moviegoing experience
It’s easy to complain about going to the movies. It can be pricey. Rude people like to talk during the show. It’s annoying when someone pulls out their cell phone in a darkened theater. All true. But just as true is that the major theater chains are continually brainstorming new ways to make the moviegoing experience more enjoyable. That starts with some, like the Alamo Drafthouse chain, taking a “zero tolerance” policy on talking/phone use.
Reclining leather seats are increasingly becoming common in cinemas. So are IMAX auditoriums, which offer high-resolution images on a larger-than-normal screen. Sound improvements, like Dolby Atmos, help to envelope the audience in a luxurious soundscape. Concession stand menus are going beyond the popcorn-and-soda basics, and an increasing number of theaters allow you to order a full meal, which is delivered right to your seat.
These are just a few of the things theaters are trying to keep you coming back. Even more will undoubtedly reveal themselves in the future. If you enjoy seeing movies, this may be the most important “secret” of all.
What do you think? Do you know any other interesting things happening behind-the-scenes in movie theaters? We want to hear your thoughts in the comments!
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