Christopher Campbell's The Moviegoer - Avoiding the Crowds

December 1, 2008

Movie Crowds

What compels people to endure the crowds? Is it really the best time, the only time, for them to be there? Is it the chance to see something first? Really, for every benefit there is to seeing a movie on a weekend, there is also a negative factor that should keep us moviegoers more spread out, more comfortable, attending a show at any other time except that busy Friday to Sunday period. One thing that baffles me most about the weekend moviegoers is their ignorance of what day it is. Are they really surprised at the lines and the fact that tons of others want to see the same hot new movie on opening night? And are they really that shocked that they can't have an empty seat between themselves and a stranger when attending a sold out show? If they are so agoraphobic, they probably shouldn't be at the multiplex on opening night anyway.

I understand that some people are really busy on the weekdays and that the weekend is truly the most accessible time to attend a movie with their family. But perhaps such people should actually use their minimal free time to more directly enjoy the company of their family. If all the members of one household do want to see the same movie - and my memories of family moviegoing in the post-multiplex era suggest not - then there are other fine ideas: for example, throughout the week everyone can see the specific movie on their own, at their leisure. Then, on the weekend, in the short time the family has together, there can be more direct bonding time, possibly including a discussion of that movie they've all seen.

Of course, this would mean that said movie has already come out at least the weekend before. And who likes to wait so long to see a new movie? We are a culture of competitive firsts-seekers, whether it be leaving the lead comment on a blog post or getting into a Wal-Mart store before anyone else on Black Friday (the tragic news of an employee trampled to death last week makes a similar scene in Jingle All the Way now appear even more despicable, by the way). We don't so much like to see a movie that we can discuss with people (family members or anyone) as we like to see a movie that we can tell others we've seen, whether simply to be one of the masses (in the case of an event-size blockbuster) or preferably to be one of the leaders - those who get to lay the primary recommendation or discouragement to peers.

To fulfill the latter desire, it helps to be a New Yorker, as the Big Apple does get some specialty films before anyplace else (save for maybe Los Angeles). Yet these limited openings also make for even busier, more crowded shows. As much as I hate being packed into a small auditorium like a sardine, before which I'm corralled into a labyrinthine lobby line with the rest of the moviegoing cattle, I did recently attend an opening weekend screening of Slumdog Millionaire. And fortunately the movie is a joy, because the rest of that experience tried my patience. It is part of my job, though, to stay on top of new releases, and since I prefer public showings to press screenings (which I'm rarely invited to anyway), I have to buck up and squeeze into a sold out theater every now and again.

I had to draw the line, however, this past weekend. I needed to see Gus Van Sant's Milk. More importantly, I was dying to see Milk. But even with three locations playing the film in New York City (that's one more than was showing Slumdog), I had to ultimately pass. Typically, I'll wait until Sunday evening before seeing a new release - it is the least crowded time of the weekend, after all. Of course, it's also when the box office estimates are announced. Just as I was about to head out into the rain and travel to Manhattan, I saw the results for Milk. The biopic reportedly had a per-screen average of $53,930 from Wednesday to Sunday. To put this into perspective, the #1 movie at the box office, Four Christmases, had a per-screen average of only $14,112. So, if you went to that movie over the weekend, and you thought your auditorium was packed, just think if that theater was earning almost four times as much.

It is terrific how well both Milk and Slumdog are doing in their limited runs, because their success should increase anticipation and therefore popularity for their eventual wide release. So it's a good thing, I suppose, that enough people tolerate the crowds well enough to put a notable spotlight on these specialty pictures. As for me, I'd prefer to see Milk once the per-screen average has significantly dropped. Although I am really looking forward to seeing it, I have faith that it will be out for awhile, and I'll probably enjoy it more without having to hold my coat in my lap and suffering the extended elbow of an adjacent moviegoer.

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My advice to you is to take advantage of your luxury of being able to see advance and private screenings. My favorite time to see a movie is around noon on Sunday, or a similar time on a weekday if I can manage. Otherwise, the experience is always ruined by the, you said it best, cattle. Those fucking loathesome, fat, disgusting, always buy the theater food, shitheads. Fuck it all. I apologize for the language, but, that's just how strongly I agree with this article.

JL on Dec 1, 2008


I feel like you're projecting a bit with what you feel the motivations of weekend movie goers are, Alex, especially when you tell them to spend more time with their families at home. Anyway, what keeps me going to the movies on opening night and enduring the crowds is the fact that if I don't see something opening night or opening weekend, chances are it will fall off my radar when the next week's films get released. If a movie I've been anticipating for months comes out and I don't see it on opening night, it's near painful knowing it's out there and available and I've been unable to see it. So why *not* go opening night or opening weekend? I've never experienced a crowd so intolerable that it's made me question the logic in attending that particular screening; as with anything else in life that is bound to test your patience (being put on hold by your cable company, winter driving, etc.), you get through it a lot easier if you realise what you're getting into ahead of time and prepare for it. Crowds on weekends are commonplace and predictable; that's not going to change so we might as well cope or stay home. I find late shows on Mondays and Wednesdays to be good for relatively thin crowds, as well as late shows on Sunday nights for kids movies.

Liz on Dec 1, 2008


Oh, sorry, this is Christopher posting under Alex, my bad.

Liz on Dec 1, 2008


A crowd in a movie theatre can be a good experience for films such as comedies or big time action flicks where you're experiencing it as a whole. Seeing a big comedy on opening night is awesome with friends, because of your group laughing and others laughing right along. Also, I've never had a issue with large crowds anyways, and the hype for midnight showings such as TDK or upcoming Watchmen is good too, because everyone there has the same thing on mind... getting owned by an awesome movie.

Aaron on Dec 1, 2008


The only thing I HATE about a sold out showing is the inconsiderate moviegoer that is loud, inconsiderate and deserving of a beat-down (Think Scary Movie). My friend and I finally went to see Madagascar 2 this Sunday and the 8pm show had NO ONE else in the theater besides us. It was HEAVEN. I totally need to transform my living room into a private theater!!!

AndyS on Dec 1, 2008


I like to avoid the crowds and it's nice when my friend and I can go to a movie during the day with maybe one or two other small groups of people in the same movie. Sometimes I like to go to the opening night releases like Iron Man or a Spider-Man movie where most of the people there are fans and that's something you're able to relate to and then I usually don't mind it. This past August I went and saw TDK on Imax during the week, and it was ruined for me by some kid sitting in the lower handicap sitting area texting on his phone. I tried to ignore it but the light was just distracting, it seemed as if he was dragged to the movie and he was basically taking up a ticket that someone else could have gotten for this sold out screening. I just thought of this but I like to enjoy my movie in full glory, so if I don't get to see a movie the first week it usually gets moved to a smaller compact theater and the screen just seems smaller and not as big as say the first few theater rooms in big multiplexes for the big releases. If it were impossible to get a less crowded theater I would take the crowded theater over not seeing it anytime a movie I was interested in came out.

Tyler on Dec 2, 2008


#4 is spot on. But for those other films, I do like to see it with some crowd. its nice to hear/see other people's reactions to whats happening on the screen (the gasp, the loud laugh, the jump, the sobbings). Makes you feel like you can experience it better if a few other people are feeling the same thing you're feeling. as for #5, how were you in heaven? You went to see Madagascar 2... 'nuff said.

dave13 on Dec 2, 2008


I agree with most said here. #6.....when something like that happens...take my advice....I've done this... You walk up behind them and lean down close to their ear and you say in a normal voice.. Shut your fucking phone off.

Heckle0 on Dec 2, 2008


@dave13... Unless you've seen Madagascar 2, how can you tell me it's bad? Granted, not the greatest movie ever made, but it was still entertaining AND I got to spend 2 hours with a good friend I hadn't seen in a while. Sometimes it's just going to the theater, spending time with friends and escaping for a couple of hours with light-hearted entertainment. Not EVERY movie has to be The Dark Knight.

AndyS on Dec 2, 2008


OK... I am on board with SOME of this as well... I want to smack the "text'rs"... but LOVE the atmosphere of a full theatre, loud laughter at Comedies, sobbing at the dramas, and jumps and popcorn dropping of horrors/action flicks. And guess what.. I am that asshole that brings his 6 month old out to the movies with his family... and time it so that if he wakes, I have a quick isle exit. Would I bring him to TDK - NO... but yes to Madagascar 2, and his babyseat will take up a seat next to me. Just because we have an infant does not mean that my wife should restrict our activities, I dealt with that this whole week at tourist atractions in AZ and those folks and go stick some large abrasive rods in a couple painful places. I grew up at the movies, my 9 yr old (8 at the time) sat right next to me at TDK opening night, my wife and I are in our 'design' phase of our first theatre to hopefully be built/remodeled in 2009. I love the movies, the weekend at the movies with my family IS MY FAMILY PREFERRED BONDING TIME. My elder son LOVES the excitement of the openning night lines and seeing and hearing people get more and more excited before showtime. He is already much like me and a complete cine'phile' and wants to be able to see something once it is available so we can begin talking about it. I guess I am confused to think about what bonding experience could be more amazing than that. Instead of ONLY having a child decide on a movie they want, we look at the movies as an opportunity to introduce new stories and concepts that otherwise would not have been had the child only seen High School Musical 3. That being said, HSM3 is an example of me sending my wife with my son, or vice versus, while I stayed home with the infant as I had no interest in the film. When they returned, he began to show the many ways I missed out in that film and that I should have gone. AND if he disliked a movie that he went to see with me, we also discuss. Having an 8-yr old tell you all the reasons no one should waste their money on Speed Racer is an amazing conversation. He can give you a full plot synopsis and make it age approrpiate so his friends at school are MOTIVATING THEIR PARENTS to go see the movies(I have had those phone calls). Hell I was going to start recording some of them and post them online, figure it is a better measurement than you or I can make on a film for children. Yes we working parents have small amounts of free time, but maybe you can recall a time that I can't when homework, dinner, and sleep did not take up a full evening during the week. These openning night experiences are for our children, they are for their memories of the films and those they saw them with... that is a true bonding experience. I am saddened to know that movie-goers such as yourself see it as a chore or a negative mark in the efforts ones take to see a film. As an industry professional, I see it... too you, these folks are getting in the way of YOUR job. As a supporter of the movie industry, which do you think is more important???? ++++++ JL#1 A packed auditorium at most multiplexes on opening night is 85% of seats sold(some up to 90%). There are 10-15% of open seats at every sold out show. Some smaller auditoriums will maintain a 95%-96% capacity, as the usher(high school kid with a broom) can more easily ask the shorter rows to move in and address more open seats. If you are next to the guy that loves the nachos and the krinkle of the buttery popcorn bags and that is too much of a distraction... the movies were made for everyone and that food is part of the experience for them...... If that is such a terrible thing.... sorry, you need to wait for DVD. SIDE NOTE:::: YES, I AM THAT ASSHOLE THAT ALSO BRINGS IN A BURGER AND FRIES FROM TIME TO TIME, cause I know it pissed folks off as well. HAHAHAHAHA... YUMMY

Dusty on Dec 2, 2008


oops.. that was almost longer than your article

Dusty on Dec 2, 2008


wow... and a couple mispellings... guess I was a little frustrated... hmmmmm

Dusty on Dec 2, 2008


I tend to wait a week (or two) to see a new movie - and I go during the weekdays to have a better experience . There are times I go opening day though. If I just have to see it, cause I've waited so long and heard so much about a movie that I'm really excited about. Or if I don't want to be spoiled about the movie. Whether by a friend or from a website many people love to tell people all about a movie -- and sometimes I want to find out everything for myself. just my thoughts

BHcolin on Dec 2, 2008


This principle of avoiding crowds should be applied to all activites where possible. Eat lunch at a restaurant at 11am, avoid the rush hour while driving, shop on weekdays and so on....

Tom on Dec 2, 2008


I usually go on a first showing on Saturday morning, before the teens are up. It's funny how it's evolved to how I used to hate people bringing babies in a theater and them crying to teenages talking through a whole movie and the cell phones. I do find crowds at some movies a great experience. I was at TDK on IMAX on the opening Saturday and it was packed. Everyone respected everyone in there and ooo'd and aaaahh'd at appropriate times. I hardly expect this to happen again, but it was a great time that I'll always remember.

L on Dec 2, 2008


I suppose this would be a good place for my to come out and admit that I haven't actually gone to theatre in over 2 years. Yuppers, I'm currently enjoying a boycott of my local theatre. Yes, there's only one in town, and yes, it sucks balls. No surround sound, rips and tears in the screen, holes in the roof, missing seats. And yes, they still charge us the same to see a movie in this excuse for a theatre as at the big time theatres in the city. When I feel that I'm getting my moneys worth I'll start going again but until then I must be patient... so very patient. I'm just now starting to enjoy on my home system all the movies you guys did during the summer. *sigh* You guys have no bloody idea how hard is to avoid spoilers for TDK! lol I love watching movies at home though. I get a group of friends over, we can laugh and talk as much as we want and can pause the movie whenever I need a pee pee break. Also, it's pretty freaking nice to be able to enjoy a comedy or two while sipping on a beer. I like watching movies at home and now that I think about it I probably will continue to watch them at home long after my local theatre has caught up the times (of course that probably won't be for another 10 or 20 years). The big theatre thing just ain't for me.

duca on Dec 2, 2008


duca... where you from? I am looking for locations to buy and sounds like that one is in bad shape and may be had for a steal to fix it up

Dusty on Dec 2, 2008


Saturday morning (as early as 10am now!) or Sunday morning showings are where it's at, man. Unless you've done too much partying on Friday or Saturday night, in which case getting up in time to go see an early morning movie may be the last thing on your mind. The crowds are minimal, matinee prices rock ($4.75 here), you can put a bunch of armrests up and lay down like you're at home on the couch, and driving is always less of a pain in the ass when there's a lot fewer morons cruising around talking on their cell phones. Of course I don't have to review films for a living, and there's no one anxiously awaiting my opinion on the latest releases. No one cares if I wait a few days, weeks, or even months to see a movie. 🙂

kevjohn on Dec 3, 2008

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