Essays · Movies

How to Improve Moviegoing in 2018

The first step is to admit we’re all part of the problem…
By  · Published on January 4th, 2018

Have you heard? Going to the movies is a pain. Theaters just don’t care anymore, letting inexperienced teens handle projection and patrons use their phones throughout the show. Everyone else is munching and crunching too loud or talking or otherwise being distracting and discourteous. What, do they think they’re in their living room?

Yeah all this is old news, going back decades. But is it getting worse? And are fans growing less eager to go to the movies? As shown by Box Office Mojo, pointed out by /Film and other outlets, ticket sales were the lowest in 2017 than they’ve been in 25 years. Of course, it’s worth nothing that attendance has still been slightly up compared to the years before 1992, with sales generally flatlined since the 1960s.

Any time reports or observations like this come out, true movie lovers offer the usual complaints and suggestions related to the usually acknowledged problems. It’s the theater owners’ fault for charging so much and not monitoring auditoriums better. It’s Hollywood’s fault for not offering better movies and for basically bullying theaters into letting ticket sales benefit the studios more than exhibitors.

And it’s everyone else around us. The pirates, the cheapskates, the chatty old timers, the texting millennials, the people who bring in loud and/or smelly outside food, the indecisive lady at the concession stand or ticket counter holding up the line, the couple who brought their infant and their toddler to the R-rated horror film…

Well, it’s all of us. It’s them and it’s you and it’s me. We’ve all been contributing to all the problems for years, and although it’s not likely to ever become perfect again — really, it never was perfect, if you want to travel back in time and see for yourself — there are things that all of us can do to contribute to the improvement of moviegoing.

Here are some suggestions:

Days Concessions

1. Buy Concessions

Let’s get the most easily contentious idea out of the way. Movie theaters are not quite in the business of exhibiting movies, not anymore. They sell food. They make their money off overpriced popcorn, soda, and candy, or more common  now they’re basically a restaurant that also projects films. If you want to support movie theaters, you have to buy their wares. If you don’t, they’ll just keep raising prices for tickets and food to make up the difference.

Gremlins Movie Image

2. Don’t bring in outside food

If you don’t like the food offered at a theater, fine, don’t buy it. But don’t bring in outside food and drinks instead. Don’t do it because you prefer something else, don’t do it because it’s cheaper to get candy at the drug store, don’t do it for any reason other than genuine medical necessity. You’re contributing to the issue with movie theaters not making money on their own concessions and needing to raise prices to make it up. You wouldn’t bring your own snacks to a restaurant, so don’t do it here. If you need something to put in your mouth and are broke, bring a canteen and fill up water from the fountain. Nothing else is right or fair.


3. Clean up your mess

When exactly did it become the custom for moviegoers to just throw their garbage on the floor and leave it there when they leave the auditorium? A long time ago, and for some reason everyone thinks that’s just what’s done. Never mind that pre-show messages always tell you to throw out your own trash. We know the “ushers” will be coming through afterward with brooms and garbage cans, so it seems like we’re expected to leave our popcorn tubs and contraband take-out containers in our seats. Guess what? Theaters have to spend extra money to pay those cleaning crews to pick up all your mess speedily before the next show. That money has to come from somewhere.

Movie Date Mike Bella Jacob

4. Make theaters aware of your concerns

One thing I learned when managing movie theaters is that complaints came mainly from one sort of moviegoer who just liked to complain (and most of my colleagues tended to be annoyed by them rather than responsive), but tons of issues I recognized on my own went without direct grievances. Some issues were as big as a movie being slightly out of frame or in the wrong lens or a print being scratched. I realized there had to be many silent dissatisfied folks who either just conceded to an expectation for bad experiences or likely never returned.

Don’t be one of the people who gives in to the defeat of a problem-filled industry and complain on Twitter and continue staying home more. Make the effort to bring issues to the attention of managers and theater owners. Not to the closest part-time summer job staff member but to the people who really do care, or should care, about their business. Get others to join you in giving the business the feedback they need so they don’t maintain the bare minimum or less.

And it’s not always about complaining so much as suggesting. Some of the things to tell your local theater owners and high-level management about include: problems with the audio or visual presentation of a movie, including that they should be masking their screens; issues with other guests, recommending that there should be employees stationed in auditoriums to monitor for talkers, texters, pirates, etc. (theaters should, at the very least, be checking every show once for any noticeable issues, but even that’s not being done anymore); and any dissatisfaction with anything concession related, whether your popcorn is too salty or crumbly or your soda is flat.

Hugo At The Movies

5. Be more encouraging

If everything is a complaint, then truly we’re all too focused on the bad stuff about moviegoing and that’s consuming our experiences (this is true of how annoyed or distracted we get with every little thing anyone else is doing around us in the theater, which wasn’t always the case). We’re not just becoming more selfish and discourteous as a whole, we’re also becoming more negative. We’re more likely to post on Yelp about bad experiences than good ones, for instance.

So let’s not just complain about moviegoing experiences all the time. Let’s also point out, even if to ourselves, when things are great. But maybe tell friends, and tell the businesses what they’re doing well when they’re doing something well. Especially alongside a complaint or issue, because that shows you’re invested and care and want the same from them. If theaters are encouraged in the things they get right, they’ll be encouraged to do better with things they’ve gotten wrong.

Tmm Movietheater

We’re all part of the solution…

Remember: movie theaters, like any local businesses, whether parts of a chain or not, are part of your community. None of these things are going to be fixed by you alone, but all of them are in part the result of your role, whether it’s positive or negative or indifferent. No, theaters aren’t going to start lowering prices if everyone buys popcorn again. And most chains might not really ever care about anything we do to try to help them try to help us all. We can all be better examples, though, and not surrender just yet.

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Christopher Campbell began writing film criticism and covering film festivals for a zine called Read, back when a zine could actually get you Sundance press credentials. He's now a Senior Editor at FSR and the founding editor of our sister site Nonfics. He also regularly contributes to Fandango and Rotten Tomatoes and is the President of the Critics Choice Association's Documentary Branch.