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Why Going to the Movies Sucks So Bad

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I finally saw Walk the Line the other night, and while I enjoyed the film and think that Joaquin and Reese and everybody else will win Oscars and I might even go out and get me some Johnny Cash, this review is all about the movie-going experience. It just totally sucks nowadays.

That’s right. I never thought I’d say it, but going to the movies has become a real chore. Me, who loves all the previews and buttery popcorn. Me, who can’t wait for the movie to come out on DVD and Must. See. It. Right. Now. I’m just so tired of dealing with all the other people who insist on going to the same movie at the same theater at the same time as me. Those who insist on sitting near me, and driving me bonkers. Totally ruining the movies for me.

Let’s rewind a bit to Friday night, when my husband and I made our second attempt at seeing Walk the Line. (Our first try was the day after Thanksgiving, and the 3p.m. show was sold out – guffaw, I said. How dare all these people see a movie when they should be out shopping for $27 laptops.) We successfully bought our tickets and headed into the semi-crowded theater, having bypassed the concession counter this time ‘round because we came straight from Thai food and were just too full.

This was probably my first mistake of the night, not getting any popcorn. Me and popcorn go together like, well, popcorn and hot butter flavoring. Sometimes popcorn can make even the worst movie experience not so bad. Never mind having to spend $12 on a small bucket of the stuff and a small soda. I usually gladly pay it, though, because I just love the movies and all that entails going to the theater.

At any rate, we didn’t get any popcorn. We walked into the theater, which was about half full. Quickly found our seats, not too close nor too far way from the screen. Only minimal head blockage (this was not a stadium seating theater, though it was a large movie theater chain). I quickly assessed my nearest neighbors – to my right an older couple in which the woman had very large Texas-style hair (probably a Johnny Cash fan), to my left a middle-aged African American man and his friend, and directly in front of me two women probably in their early thirties. A fairly diverse audience, I thought to myself.

And then I smelled something. I know that sometimes, movie theaters don’t always smell like roses, what with all the stale popcorn and sticky floors. But this was the smell of a dirty bathroom. I whispered to my husband that it stunk like a toilet. He looked around and shrugged his shoulders. And then the barrage of previews, er correction, commercials and promotions started playing. I sunk into my seat and tried to forget about the stench.

About midway into the previews (which, by the way, I think we’ve now seen the Brokeback Mountain preview about 12 times, and every time, I turn to my husband and ask him if we can go see the “gay cowboy” movie, just to see him react), I was distracted by a latecomer in the row in front of me. The woman had to squeeze by an older gentleman sitting by himself at the end of the row. She apologized while he LOUDLY said, “That’s OK, baby, there’s a seat right here, there ya go” in a Southern drawl. At first, I was like, what a nice older man. But then he continued to LOUDLY talk to her (she was by herself at this point, frantically looking toward the back for her other party to arrive), offering her his popcorn and drink.

Her friend finally arrived, just as the opening credits were rolling. She squeezed by the older man and was similarly greeted by him. She sat down and whispered something to her friend. By now, the movie was into the first scene – Arkansas, 1944, two young brothers, JR and Jack, listening to little June Carter singing on the radio. The older man turned to the two women and LOUDLY relayed this exact scenario, in case they missed it themselves. They giggled a little, trying to politely ignore the now-intrusive older man who was sitting right next to them.

I, of course, being the self-proclaimed people-watcher, er correction, voyeur that I am, couldn’t help but watch the scene unfolding in front of me. I managed to keep one eye on the movie and one eye on the interesting trifecta of too-loud talking old man plus two now-annoyed women. My husband managed to keep both of his eyes on the screen the whole time, because he can easily ignore the random goings-on in public places. I, on the other hand, cannot.

I continued to watch the two women and noticed that both of them were covering their noses. Maybe they smelled the icky bathroom stink, too. And then it hit me. The loud-talking older man, who also liked to shout out “sing it, Johnny” at the screen during performance scenes, was emanating the bathroom-esque odor. But the more I smelled him, the more I realized it was actually a combination of unflushed toilet, moth balls and alcohol. This wasn’t a nice older man! This was a dirty, stinky drunkard!

I watched him take swigs of an amber-colored liquid out of a used water bottle. He frequently nodded off during the movie. Every 20 minutes or so, he’d lean forward and proclaim that he was looking for his hat. The poor women tried their hardest to ignore the man and just watch the movie.

Because the movie? It was damn good, and entertaining, too. Even for me, who can’t really get into the country-western music genre. But the stench was simply overwhelming. And finally, they got up and moved a few seats away from him. A couple sitting in the nearby side rows also moved a few rows away. At one point, an usher came by and asked the drunk to move his stuff out of the aisle (he had a backpack, probably filled with Jack Daniels). I was certain that management was going to come by and ask him to leave, though it never happened.

It’s amazing that I even remembered the movie, because I was so distracted by the stinky old man. Miraculously, my husband had been completely oblivious to what had just happened. As the final credits were rolling, I asked him if he had been bothered by the smell, and then I discreetly pointed out the culprit. He said that he had heard the man talking, but he didn’t realize that the man was so stinky. He shrugged his shoulders again. I was incredulous that he hadn’t been more affected.

And thus began our in-depth discussion about the movie-going experience … it’s no wonder that box office numbers are down year after year. People don’t want to go a movie theater where they forced to sit next to stinky strangers when they can watch a DVD on their surround-sound, high-definition plasma screens at home. Where they can eat microwave popcorn for a fraction of the cost. Where they can curl up on the couch with loved ones and pause the movie whenever they feel like it. In their underwear, if they like.

Of course, these movie-watching types, the ones who wait for the DVD, miss out on seeing great films the way they were meant to be enjoyed – on the BIG screen. But the truth is, the romance of going to the movies is gone. How can I fully engage with the actors and the dialogue and the story on the screen when I am constantly pulled away from it by ringing cell phones, loud-talking people, crinkly candy wrappers, and in this case, a stinky old drunk?

Perhaps if I had just gotten some popcorn, I wouldn’t have noticed the stench. Probably not. But maybe.

As we exited the theater, there was a police officer with a flashlight waiting by the door. I whispered to my husband that maybe he was there to arrest the drunk man?! We could only hope.

If only I could arrange for private screenings, I’d be set. But seeing as that’ll never happen, unless my aspirations of becoming a paid movie critic somehow become a reality, I guess I’m stuck with the drunks. Because I still love the movies!

This commentary can also be found at Quarter Life Crisis.

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About Jenifer Gonzales

  • Sno-Caps & Junior Mints

    My sympathies to all who suffer the agony of a horrible movie theatre experience. The last time I was in a movie theatre was for a Lord of the Rings movie, in an American theatre. I went alone, during my workday. Two seats empty on both sides. A young fellow decides to sit exactly in a seat next to me. For two and half hours I endured this goober whistling through his nose while he was breathing and him shaking his leg like a nervous dog. The last half hour I contemplated violence to this person. The most recent positive experience was in Europe, 2004, Dodgeball. NO ONE spoke during the show. The level of respect was amazing. Everyone takes their trash with them. Floors were clean not sticky.
    Never again will I go into a movie theatre because the comfort of viewing movies in my own home out-weighs the stress & cost of being elsewhere. Even if the theatre experience is positive somewhere, I would rather pay two dollars for a crap movie rental than an $8 or $12 ticket which automatically includes the extraneous bull-doody behaviour from “fellow” theatre patrons. People who bring active cell phones & toddlers to theatres are rectal-portholes!
    These people are dangerously oblivious to other patrons wanting to FORCEFULLY DEACTIVATE BOTH!

  • joanne

    Can’t help it…still love the big screen experience. I’m the one who sneaks the gyro into the theatre every now and then…

    Could stand to lose the 40 previews tho…

  • mom

    I love the Dave Chappelle comment! I wonder if it’s the REAL Dave Chapelle!.. Good luck on your NY Times interview tomorrow. Love, mom

  • uao

    From Hollywood:

    If I throw a rock, I’ll hit an actor. On some days, I hit three or four.

    I’m the only guy living in Hollywood (besides the Mexicans, Armenians, Russians, Thais, Salvadoreans, et. al.) who didn’t move here to get into movies. That said, I used to enjoy going to the movies. But I’ve done so precisely 8 times in the last 4 years.

    Here’s the local cinema experience:

    Nearest cinema: The famous Arclight. Once a magnificent landmark; a perfect geodesic dome in which the screen was at a 45 degree angle from the ceiling, and the audience semi-reclined in plush seats to watch it; opened in 1969 it was pure Apollo Age architecture and philosophy. The first movie that showed there was 2001: A Space Odyssey.

    These days, the Cinema has been dwarfed by parking structure monoliths all around it; you barely notice the golfball shape anymore. The theater has been turned into a garish multiplex. The biggest screen is on a half-heartedly reconstructed version of the original big theater, minus all its sleek design intelligence. Only crap plays on the biggest screen.

    Last time I went, there were 14 ticket lines. Five people stood in front of me, and there was 45 minutes until showtime.

    47 minutes later, I was sold my ticket. For $14.00! The usher told me to “Enjoy the movie”, I told him “it had really better be good”.

    Parking was $5

    $19 for some lousy pic, and I don’t even remember what it was, it was so lousy. I know it was probably a big one, damned if I can even remember…

    Across the street, CD/DVD/Vinyl collector MEGA-store Amoeba sells used DVD’s of recent flicks and offbeat old stuff for under ten bucks. Free parking, too.

    It’s just not worth the money and the hassle and the parking and the lines to see what? Something III? With screechy kids and stinky old men?

    I’d rather stay home and channel-surf. Or blog. Or a hundred other things.

    I mourn the loss of the traditional neighborhood theater experience, gone since the invention of the multiplex; back then (through the mid-80’s or so, it was something special the communal experience. Now its just cattle herding of carloads. Pity, but Hollywood brought it on itself.

  • Dave Chappelle

    The stink was my fault, I’m sorry. I went to the theater and crapped in one of the seats, and stayed to laugh while I watched the old man sit in it, because to me that’s funny.

  • -E

    Bummer that going to the movie is such a chore for you. I go to the movie at least twice a month, sometimes more. I’ve had one experience with loud kids that were honestly too young to see the movie, but we alerted the manager and they were escorted out. But other than that, every experience I have had is extremely enjoyable. Perhaps it is just the theater I choose to go to?

  • chele

    Avoid the main consumer cinemas. Any decent town has and independent, artsy theater with much better movied anyway.

  • I know how you feel, my girlfriend and I just wait for movies to hit DVD or video on demand and then see them. For the amount of money you pay for two people to see movie nowadays you can wait till comes out on DVD and buy it. Not to mention the fact they show like 20 minutes of commericals before the trailers roll.

    Another thing that drives me nuts happened at a movie we see recently. This family in front of us had brought their toddler to a 8pm movie. Now dont get me wrong i have nothing againts bringing young ones to a movie, but at 8pm? when the movie was two and half hours long? No way. We were blessed with the kid throwing fits and being loud halfway through the movie. Needless to say the girlfriend and I were pissed.

  • cs

    have you checked the price of movie projectors lately? they are cheaper than plasma screens and let you watch the movie like they are intended to be… on the BIG screen (if you own a big white wall)

  • Jenifer Gonzales

    No worries! Thanks for the words, redundant and all!

  • And now it shows up. I swear I didn’t see my first comment a minute ago. I’ve got to stop eating every mushroom I see growing in a field.

    Sorry for the redundancy.

  • Dude, I so commented on this this morning. Where did it go? And now I can’t remember what I said, but you can count on it being hilarious and insightful.

    These days I do find myself curled up on the couch with my wife with some home made popcorn and a DVD. It is cheaper, cozier, and generally less obnoxious than the theatre.

  • I rarely go to the movies anymore. It is a combination of a weird work schedule, an extremely busy wife and the inability for us to agree on what we’d like to see.

    That and exactly what you are talking about here. The experience of going to a movie just isn’t as good anymore. I find myself throwing in a classic DVD, popping my own popcorn and curling up next to the Mrs on the couch more often now, than actually getting to the cinema.