It's not easy to walk out of a movie. Most of us who've made the effort to go out to the theater, paid our money for the ticket and spent even more on concessions, we're too invested. There's no turning back once the lights go down, even if the film is not to our liking. Just sulk and bear it. Maybe the end credit song will be nice at least. There are possible exceptions, though. If you're at a multiplex, you could duck out and try to find something else, but it's risky if you don't have all the showtimes on hand and also are worried you'll get caught theater hopping. If you're at a film festival with an all-inclusive pass, skipping out and onto the next thing is common practice.
Evil Dead appears to be causing other exceptions. It's not just Film.com columnist Jenni Miller who wrote last week about bolting from her press screening of the horror remake halfway through. We're seeing other cases via Twitter of walkouts, people who can't take the level of gore and scares offered in the film. For many it seems to be the first or rare instance. Many others have tweeted that they came very, very close to leaving.
When I was younger, walking out on a movie tended to be if I was with a small group and we were collectively bored by the feature. I guess we had disposable income and didn't care. For almost 20 years, though, I've either worked in movie theaters or gone to press screenings so much that leaving either wasn't an option (if I was being paid to watch the thing) or it was even easier to walk if I wasn't into it (so long as I didn't have to review it). Now I tend to just fall asleep instead. This was what happened most recently when I'd decided I'd had enough of the awful Oz the Great and Powerful.
As for content that offends or disgusts or scares us out the door, we just don't have a lot of those thoroughly shocking movies anymore. For instance, if you're watching Pink Flamingos and can't stomach it, you should know that stuff isn't going to pass. With, say, Lars von Trier's Antichrist or most over-the-top gross-out horror films these days, you expect the really difficult stuff to be brief. Or, we tend to hear enough beforehand that will keep us from even going to see The Human Centipede or A Serbian Film or whatever else has had that sort of reputation in the first place. Maybe we'll test ourselves when it comes out on DVD and we can stop the film with less money wasted and, more importantly, less embarrassment.
Sometimes we can be tricked, though. I expected Piranha 3D to be more campy fun than an exhibition of realistic trauma -- that is, not just cartoonish blood and gore but an immersive massacre featuring people crying and screaming for having observed the carnage and pandemonium, not unlike viewing a very graphic 9/11 documentary (see what I wrote of this at the time). My then-girlfriend (now wife) had to leave and go wait in the lobby. Due to my profession, I reluctantly stayed.
There's a story in my family about my father always needing to walk out of a movie if there was an act of infidelity on-screen. I don't believe it to be totally true. For one thing, that sounds a tad extreme. For another thing, that'd presumably have him walking out of most movies. And for a third thing, it never happened when I saw a movie with him as a kid, not that there's so much cheating going on in movies we'd see as a kid. Still, I've grown up to have a great hatred of infidelity in film, too, especially for how accepting and normalizing it is and for how often it's used as a lazy plot development. I guess I've inherited that distaste, but I don't have a desire to walk out on it.
Surveying movie geeks may not be enough for this discussion. We'll sit through a lot more than the average Joe will. Our main tolerance issues, as the below responses show us, are with presentation and etiquette. But I'm still interested in knowing...
What does it take for you to walk out of a movie?
Here are some responses received so far via Twitter: