The other day I was talking to a woman I know and I found out she hasn't set foot inside a movie theater in 15 years. She listed the minor reasons like expense and bad theater environments, but her main gripe was the same one everyone else has: everyone else. It's a cliché but they really are hell, those other people.
Now, obviously, everybody likes a good rowdy crowd at a crappy horror movie. But what about when you're trying to watch something really serious where Nicole Kidman is grieving her dead child? That requires a different environment.
Contrary to what you might think, movie critics don't spend all their time in luxurious screening rooms on the Sony lot (although they do have some nice ones there and you should be extremely envious of me). We hit the regular theaters and we spend our own money. I know what you're going through. It's a nightmare out there if you don't do it right.
And since most theater owners have yet to install much-needed, 6'5" 300lb ex-convict bouncers in every multiplex in the country, I'm going to share my secrets for getting what you paid for in spite of everything and maintaining your sanity and commitment to non-violence. It can be done anywhere, even if you live in Los Angeles like me and you're surrounded by more than your fair share of jerks. Living by even one of the following rules will make your two hours time better spent:
Skip Friday and Saturday
First of all, that's Date Night, which means you're going to be around unhappy couples out to save their dying relationships. And they're going to be wearing too much fragrance. Worse? That's when teenagers go to the movies. If you're a teenager reading this and you're suddenly offended, too bad. You guys are—in general, along with really old people—the worst. I'm sure there are a few Rory Gilmore types with manners out there, but I haven't met you yet. You were raised during a time in history when movie theaters decided to stop enforcing the social decency contract and you are usually the people who ruin it for everyone else.
Skip Sunday matinees
Because that's when all the old people are there. And they're just wrinkled teenagers who don't text. See, human beings have a very brief window of life when they're not horrible to be around and it's usually in that introspective mopey decade between marriages. And those people go to the movies from Sunday night to Thursday night. I've discovered that Monday and Tuesday afternoons are pretty much the best. You'll have the place mostly to yourself. The world is turning everybody into misanthropes who want their own cocoon. This is how to get it.
Go to the newest, most amenities-filled theater
Most bigger cities have these places now, the $13 a ticket cinemas where they closely monitor sound, projection, cell phone use and stuff like that. The higher ticket price keeps out a lot of the riff-raff and if you wind up having to complain about someone who takes a call in the middle of a movie, they really will send in the usher to get the person to stop. (Warning: after about three years in existence, even these places get lazy and quality and service will drop off like crazy, so don't rely on that ticket price to do it all for you.)
Seriously, you have to. You don't have to let it make your blood pressure rise. In fact, you'll be more effective if you do it gently yet firmly and relentlessly. But insist on hot popcorn, fizzy soda, good sound, good projection, theaters that don't smell like raw sewage and management dealing with people who won't supervise their children or remove crying babies from screening rooms. You paid a lot of money for that ticket. Go speak to the manager and get that person to do something. If that person won't do something then get your money back AND get some free passes for your lost time and gas money. Don't give up until you do. Go over their head if you have to. Email or call the company. Be calm, be annoying, be the person whose standards they have to live up to.
Engage the cell phone user
If you wind up in a crowded theater (which is breaking my first two rules, but whatever, you did it to yourself) and the total stranger next to you is texting or checking email, what they're really doing is playing at being a projectionist and, obviously, inviting you to look at their competing screen. So do that. Get your face right in their cell phone and say, "Wow, that's awesome. Your little words-movie there is so much better than this other one." If that doesn't shame them into stopping then you have a few choices. Start something over it, which is always a losing battle, or go be a tattletale (see: "Complain" above). If tattling doesn't work and you can't switch seats in the crowded theater, then go get that refund and those passes. Use the refund for dessert at Cheesecake Factory and the passes for something playing on Monday afternoon. And what if the cell phone user is several rows away? Just throw popcorn or yell at them. They won't know who did it.
Sit in the last row in the back or the first row in the front because those are the ones with the least amount of human feces on them. Don't spend extra for fake Imax (people I know call it "Lie-max") or any movie in 3D that doesn't have the words "Piranha," "Jackass" or "Avatar" in the title. Never go see anything on opening weekend. Don't be timid about closing the theater door when the usher chooses not to do his/her job. Pay the ridiculous money and use that fancy new computery self-serve drink machine where there are like 100 flavors (weird ones you never knew existed, too, like Fanta Lime) because it's amazing and you can combine them and invent your own personal soda. And, when all else fails and you're next to the Worst Person in The World, just take a deep breath and change your seat. Nothing's worth the aneurysm they're trying to make you have.