Movie Theater Etiquette, Part II
Published on March 19, 2013 by Sara Foss

I've been beating the movie theater etiquette drum lately, but it's a drum that needs to be beaten.

I just got back from seeing "Oz: The Great and Powerful," and there was a couple about three rows behind me, whispering and talking in low voices through the first 20 minutes of the film. This was one night after going to a screening of "Fargo" where a couple gabbed quietly through the whole thing.

I've spent the past 15 minutes reading through movie etiquette posts online, to see what they say about talking in the theater, and most of these posts address the clueless loudmouths who yell and make wildly inappropriate remarks at inappropriate times. These people are obnoxious, and they need to be stopped, but I've decided that quiet talkers/whisperers are almost worse. In my experience, they're more common than the blatant loudmouths, and because their behavior isn't as egregious, they're harder to deal with. In fact, until recently my general inclination has been to tolerate them - after all, they're not that bad. It's not like their cell phone keeps going off, or they're yelling at the screen, or running up the aisles. 

But tonight I decided that these quiet talkers/whisperers must be addressed. They seem to think that talking quietly and/or whispering entitles them provide running commentary throughout an entire movie. And they are mistaken. The etiquette is very clear: You should keep your mouth shut, unless talking is absolutely necessary. For instance, there was a couple sitting in front of me that managed to keep their mouths shut for the entire film, with one exception: When the man got up to go to the bathroom. Then he whispered something to his wife, and quietly exited. These people were not a problem.

However, the people behind me were a different story entirely. After 20 minutes, I'd heard enough. They never did anything outrageous, but I found their steady chatter, though relatively quiet, pretty distracting. So I went up to them and said, "I can hear everything you're saying, and I'm wondering whether you could be quiet." The woman seemed a bit taken aback by this, as grown-ups often are when you point out that they're behaving poorly. She then said, "What's ruder than us talking is you telling us we're being rude," which I thought was a weird bit of playground logic that needed to be refuted immediately. And so I said, "What's rude is talking through an entire movie that other people have paid money to see." She told me to go back to my seat, which I did. However, she and her husband were a lot quieter after that.

I don't understand people who go to the movies and think they have the right to talk through the whole thing, as long as they keep their voices down. Sorry, but no: Movie theaters are conversation free zones. If you want to talk through a movie, there's a place for that: Your house. People tend to blame teenagers for ruining the movies, but lately the most outrageous offenders I've noticed have been middle-aged, well-off adults with a strong sense of entitlement. They just can't believe anyone would tell them to stop talking or texting at the movies. But the time has come to cut these people down to size.


User Comments
Eric | March 20, 2013 21:53

90% of the movies I've seen the theaters in the past 3 years have been kids' movies to which I've taken my children. The crazy thing? Most kids sit completely rapt during a movie. Once in a while you'll get a kid who's frightened or who whispers, but the adults are by far the worst offenders. I took my kids to a Loony Tunes marathon a few weeks ago and the middle aged people behind me (who had no kids with them) yapped through the whole thing while the kids in the audience were incredibly well-behaved. I think the key is to complain to the theater, not the people. "Cool" theaters enforce no talking/no cell phone policies and boot people out who don't comply. I don't think it should be up to the paying customers to enforce a theater's policies.

sarafoss | March 20, 2013 22:14

Kids are hardly ever the problem, at least in my experience. And if they're acting bad, it's really not their fault. It's the fault of the parent who either 1. brought them to a movie they weren't ready for or that wasn't appropriate for them or 2. are derelict in their responsibility to teach kids how to behave properly at public events.
I know some people recommend just talking to management, but I prefer to confront the people directly, and then go to management if they don't knock it off. For one thing, I really don't want to leave the theater and miss even more of the movie than I'm already missing. I also feel that this sort of direct action can actually be pretty effective, and maybe inspire other moviegoers to be more proactive, rather than just ignoring annoying people. Personally, I wish theaters would start addressing this problem a little better - maybe have an usher inside a theater during the first 10 or 15 minutes of the movie, and have them approach filmgoers who are talking or using their phones.

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