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  • Writer's pictureTony Fronza

Indistinct Chatter: The Demise of Theater Etiquette

You're comfortably seated or reclined in the movie theatre.

You've paid your ticket fee and are excited to see the film you've been waiting for months to watch.

Alternatively, you may be at a film festival and have just gone through the program to check out the list of festival entrants and film synopses. You have your popcorn and drink ready, and some peanut M&M's that you brought from home (guilty). The emcee takes the mic to launch the film block and get the crowd excited before the house lights dim.

Finally, the theatre lights fade out, and the screen comes to life.

It's time to immerse yourself in captivating sounds and visuals on the silver screen.

And then it happens.

Man on a cell phone disrupting a movie theater

Cell phones buzz or pound the air with annoying high-volume ring tones that people somehow "forgot to silence before the film."

Mobile device flashlights illuminate your entire row so people can peek at the film festival program they've been clutching for the last thirty minutes to see its title and synopses.

Comments reserved for post-film discussions pop up like cartoon bubbles from all directions.

Inappropriate discussions about where to shop or eat after the movie.

It is complete and utter nonsense - if only there were ways to prevent this.

AMC does an excellent job of hitting people over the head with expected behavior after the previews are over: "Don't talk. Don't text." DON'T RUIN THE MOVIE." I think they should also add, "If you brought a baby or toddler to the theater thinking they'll 'stay quiet' or 'sit still, you are sorely mistaken, so please head back to the lobby for a refund and bring them back when they're old enough to appreciate this experience." Alas, such a brutally honest disclaimer would probably get you canceled today.

What I don't understand is that there is nothing complicated about the things we cinephiles ask for:

  1. Place your phone on DND, or better yet, turn it OFF.

  2. Save your comments for that meal you're incessantly talking about or when the credits roll.

  3. Politely step outside of the theatre to take a call or respond to that "urgent" text

  4. Research the film to make sure it's age-appropriate

  5. Unless the movie is rated G or PG and it's before 6 p.m. - LEAVE YOUR KIDS AT HOME!

Number five is a HUGE pet peeve of mine.

I have kids. They were little once, too, and didn't want to sit still or be quiet, and you know what we DIDN'T do? We didn't take them to the movies unless it was age- and time-appropriate.

It enrages me to hear a two-year-old's sneakers squeaking across the floor between aisles as their "shockingly" frustrated parent chases them, making MORE noise and disruption. I've witnessed this nuisance more times than I care to remember, and one of them was during Barbie in 2023, which takes me back to number four above ("research the film..").

Unless the movie is rated G or PG and it's before 6 p.m. - LEAVE YOUR KIDS AT HOME!

Margot Robbie's Barbie is NOTHING like the animated drolling created by Mattel to entertain your three-year-old on their iPad while you finish grocery shopping. It was NOT meant for three- or even ten-year-olds, so it's rated PG-13! The rating alone should have prevented any child-chasing dopes from attending the showing.

Maybe I'm tougher on this subject because, as a Gen Xer, I was disciplined as a child if I misbehaved in public. I knew better than to cause a scene, be rude, or disrupt anything.

I remember when I was very young, my parents would sit in what used to be called a "cry room" at church along with the other parents whose children were too young to sit still or be quiet so as not to disrupt the rest of the congregation. If theaters let parents bring their children to movies they have no business seeing - or being among cinephiles and regular movie-goers- then perhaps they should create their version of a "cry room" to leave the movie enjoyment to the rest of us. Now, of course, that would never happen today thanks to woke-thinking-cancel-culture.

Gen X Man in a theater by himself

I used to love going to a crowded theater with many friends and feeling the audience's energy as they laughed, cried, or gasped along with me. It felt like I was a part of an experience that was more energized than watching a movie alone.

Now, I get excited when no one is sitting near me or I walk into an empty (or nearly empty) theater. The only exception is if I'm with my wife (because I'm madly in love with her and adore going to the movies together) or my son, Aidan, who is a fellow cinephile and seems to share my disdain for disruptions. I'm curious to see his Gen Z perspective on this topic (wink wink).

But despite these obstacles and distractions being out of my control, I will continue to go to the theater as much as possible when the film's best experience warrants it (e.g., Top Gun: Maverick, the "good" Marvel films, the Planet of the Apes series, or anything filmed in IMAX or Dolby Digital). I will also continue to be selective in my theater location and movie start time choices.

But I will also think twice about seeing a film in the theater versus streaming it at home on my 4K TV and Sonos surround sound setup (more on that in a separate blog). And I think many more people are opting to do this (probably more for convenience, but I have to assume others are fed up, too).

All I know is that theater etiquette is spiraling out of control, and that is heartwrenching. It's time for people to cease their selfish ways (i.e., bringing a toddler to see Oppenheimer because they couldn't get a babysitter or refused to pay for one) and acquiesce the theater experience to us cinephiles. But at least pets haven't been allowed in theaters...yet ;)

Dog sitting in a movie theater
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