It’s a Bad, Bad, Bad, Bad Theater Experience

Posted in Side Topics at 3:00 am by Stephen

In the post about good movie theaters Dave suggested it’d be more fun to talk about bad movie theaters. I’m not interested in hearing a whole lot about specific theaters that are just kind of crummy, but if you have a particular experience that’s so bad it’s entertaining, here’s the place to share it. I already talked about my experience with Adaptation in Episode 4, but I have more. Keep reading for some of my worst experiences.


Technical difficulties that are obvious drive me crazy. The theater is only paying its employees a few bucks an hour so I don’t get why they can’t have people in the booths checking quality. That $15 popcorn I bought that cost the theater twenty-five cents ought to cover the costs of some kid to stand in the booth for the entire movie. Anyway, I missed half the dialog in the first third of Finding Nemo because the soundtrack was consistently replaced with these loud electronic tones. I had to complain three times before it was finally fixed.

I’m loathe to leave a good movie to complain about intermittent technical problems — sometimes they go away, and I hate missing a single second of a good movie. Almost always in my experience they’re sound issues, or other stupid things like leaving the house lights on during the feature.

At least, as mindless drivel said in the Episode 4 thread, you can get a free ticket out of technical breakdowns.

Fade to black means it’s done.

That movie theaters turn on the lights during the credits is annoying enough, as everybody stands up and blocks my view (as an aside, what the heck are you people in such a hurry for? To go stand in line with everyone else as they shuffle out of the theater? It’s like the people who leave a ballgame in the bottom of the 8th to beat the traffic — half of the people in the stadium are using the same trick, so you just get to wait in line a bit sooner).

But the worst happened while I was watching Black Hawk Down, which is a fairly accurate retelling of an actual battle. The end of the film fades to a black screen, where we get some more text about the number of people who died in the battle and stuff, a fairly regular practice in these sorts of movies. The theater I was in turned up the lights as soon as the screen went black! We weren’t even to the credits yet, the movie was still rolling, and now the lights are up and people are leaving. Way to kill the somber tone. I’m getting angry just thinking about it.

Oh, it came that way.

As in my Adaptation experience, sometimes theater management likes to make stuff up. “Oh, it came that way” is the worst lie they have. I saw Big Fish on opening weekend and there were three big scratches, running down the entire height of the frame, throughout the film.

I complained to the manager afterwards, who reluctantly gave me a free ticket, but insisted the movie came that way. If just a few frames or a single reel of film is messed up, it’s very possible it was a mistake made by the lab that processed the film or in shipping. Every reel being scratched, however, is almost certainly the fault of an error by the theater in loading the film.

The worst thing was I am all but the certain the manager — who just couldn’t figure out what the big deal was about some scratches — was not going to do anything to fix the problem. Everybody else who saw the movie there was likely to experience the wonders of Scratch-O-Vision.

Interactive X2

I saw X-Men 2 in the theater twice, and for whatever reason, I was cursed. The first time I saw it, I was sitting next to some guy who was there with his girlfriend. He clearly wasn’t a comics fan, since the first time Magneto exercised his mutant power, this cat exclaimed a high-pitched “Whaaaat!?” in disbelief.

“Honey, they’re mutants,” his girlfriend would tell him in a hushed tone. “His power is he can control metal. Don’t you remember the first one?” Apparently he didn’t because he kept this up throughout whenever something strange would happen. And out-of-the-ordinary things happen a lot in that flick.

The second time I saw X2, it was an interactive experience (or as Fox marketing would surely have dubbed it: an interactive Xperience). There was a mutant at the front of the theater whose power was to shout things at the screen. What the heck he was shouting I have no idea. The dude was either drunk or insane or both. “Whazzthefrazzlenugamba!” he’d yell in between bouts of snoring loudly.

My brother, who is not one to tolerate this sort of thing, took to shouting back increasingly obscene things at the not-so-friendly mutant up front. The mutant’s response was — not surprisingly — to shout back more gibberish. Clearly this mutant was a member of the nefarious Brotherhood of Mutants, sent to ruin our enjoyment of the film.

About halfway through the film, the X-Men arrived, though they were in disguise as a security guard for the theater. As is natural, the drunken/insane mutant took a few swings at his arch-rival the security guard. Fortunately, the X-Guard prevailed and hauled the drunken mutant out of the movie.

At least I got a free movie ticket after I complained (noticing a trend here?) and a good story out of it.


  1. mindless_drivel (29) said,

    October 26, 2006 at 9:16 am

    I don’t have any specific bad movie incident in mind, but the one creature that continually haunts theaters is the “loudly discuss the plotline with his/her significant other/friend/any sentient being” imp. This is especially annoying when the person has already seen the movie because not only is he being a loud buffoon, but he’s being a loud buffoon who spoils the entire plotline!!! I can not tell you how many times I’ve had a twist in the plot loudly told by a person right behind me half-way through the freaking movie. It’s getting my blood boiling just thinking about it. I’ve always supported exporting these cretins to Antartica with nothing but a 5 inch string of floss.

  2. Stephen (221) said,

    October 26, 2006 at 9:19 am

    A tough punishment, but a fair one.

  3. siochembio (82) said,

    October 26, 2006 at 9:23 am

    My third or so time seeing the first Harry Potter movie was also my boyfriend’s first time. Unfortunately, it was also the tenth time for the the six-year-old girl sitting right behind us, who kept on informing the audience in loud whispers what would happen RIGHT before it happened. “That’s Professor McGonagall!” when she saw the cat at the beginning. And “This is the part where the book screams!” Needless to say, all element of surprise was lost for Boyfriend.

    The weirdest thing that ever happened to me at a movie theater was when a fire alarm went off during the last twenty minutes of The Rock. We had to vacate the theater and everything, and it was extremely bizarre, and probably about the last thing you expect when at the movies. After sitting in the parking lot for half an hour, we got free movie passes and went back in to watch the rest of the film. Luckily, there was no fire - an employee had accidentally pulled the fire alarm.

  4. Sam (405) said,

    October 26, 2006 at 9:37 am

    Uhhh. siochembio, you didn’t see that at the Hoyt’s (now Regal) in Newington, NH, on opening weekend, did you? Because if so, I was in the theater with you.

    In fact, I was just going to post a comment about this very experience, but you beat me to it.

    My wife and I found seats, and we watched all these kids file in and wondered with a degree of dread just how many of them would know how to behave in a movie theater. As it turned out, entire groups of kids were quiet, but there was this one kid, about six years old that kept doing exactly what you said, and I very specifically remember the line, “That’s Professor McGonagall!!” And, “Hagrid’s gonna come on a motorcycle!!” Just two details of this story differ from your version: I thought it was a boy, but I could be wrong, and I don’t think he was whispering but rather speaking outright, but maybe that’s just how my sheer annoyance remembers the story.

    Fortunately, although the theater was full, there were still empty seats, and we just picked up and moved across the theater, out of earshot, and enjoyed the rest of the show.

    But what just kills me is that this kid’s idiot parents didn’t try to teach the kid how to behave. They just kept humoring him by interestedly saying, “Ohhhh!” I wanted to slap them.

    It was easily the most outrageously annoying thing I’ve ever encountered in a theater, although the guy I mentioned in the podcast that just reeked like a dumpster makes a better story. That was for Harry Potter II. Since the third movie, we’ve started watching those movies at IMAX theaters and had spectacularly better experiences.

  5. siochembio (82) said,

    October 26, 2006 at 10:35 am

    Sam: actually, it wasn’t opening night, but it WAS the Newington Hoyts. Maybe your family went back the same night I was there!

    My fire alarm incident was the Rochester movie theaters, and when I saw The Talented Mr. Ripley in Portsmouth, some guy fainted during the movie and someone shouted “Is there a doctor in the house?!?” Stopped the movie and everything.

  6. Dave (130) said,

    October 26, 2006 at 11:47 am

    One of the worst theater experiences I can remember was this time where I was sitting sort of in the middle of the theater, and down near the front was this group of teens (probably four or five 14-16 year olds) talking LOUDLY during the movie. I can’t even remember what movie it was, but I know I was about fifteen rows back from them and I could hear them plain as day, yakking away. The worst part was they thought they were sooo clever by making MST3K style comments about the movie, which hey, I’m all for doing AT HOME during appropriate movies, but that’s just way innapropriate to do in a theater with other paying customers. Then as things went on, they started making comments about each other’s comments. It was just insane. No less than five or six people got up and left the theater (a few came back, presumably after complaining to management) and FINALLY after about ten minutes of this a theater employee showed up and told them to shut their mouths. They didn’t get kicked out, however they did quiet down after that. Of course, that’s not the end of the story. As the theater employee was leaving after talking to them, one of the girls in the group got up to go to the bathroom or something. As she was walking out, people in the audience actually started APPLAUDING. She shouts out “OH F#$@ YOU!” and ended up not coming back. I can only hope the theater employee heard her and finally kicked her out, but for all I know she just went home. Either way, we all got to watch the rest of the movie in relative peace.

    My most memorable technical difficulty experience was while watching the X-Files movie back in the day. During one particularly dark scene, the film went black, but the audio continued. Thing is, since the scene had been pretty dark to begin with, nobody was 100% sure if this was supposed to be like this or not, so it took two or three minutes before we all realized “Hey, I think the projector bulb went out or something” and someone went to complain and get it fixed.

    Actually, now that I think about it, I have a slightly better technical difficulty problem. Once while watching a movie in a cheap second-run theater, I actually saw the film catch on fire and burn up in the projector. It was kind of cool. First the image just sort of melted away on screen, then the screen was just bright white, but I could see the shadow of whisps of smoke coiling up in front of the projector. That one took about five minutes to fix, and we missed a minute or so of the movie from the un-intended splice.

  7. wintermute (157) said,

    October 26, 2006 at 1:01 pm

    Hehe. I once saw a film burn through, too.

    Me and fAmy were in a dollar cinema, watching Robots, and right at the very end (and I mean, maybe 10 or 15 seconds before the credits rolled), the picture started to get blotchy, and then pale, and finally there was nothing there. It took a while for people to decide what to do, but as we hadn’t actually missed anything, everyone just left.

    Quite bizzare to watch, though.

  8. Randy (21) said,

    October 26, 2006 at 4:34 pm

    Opening night of Return of The King, right after Sam stabs Shelob, the film bubbled then burned. We sat there for about two seconds then everyone started yelling. They eventually put a different reel on, and started right from the point we left on.
    During Clerks II, the power went out for the whole area. Got free tickets from that one.
    These were both in nice cinemas.

    The dollar cinema I used to go to in Vegas always had people talking to the screen and making lots of noise. That was annoying.

  9. ThePhan (128) said,

    October 26, 2006 at 5:07 pm

    When I saw Spider-Man, the first 20 minutes of the movie were… I don’t know what it’s actually called, but it was a lot shorter and wider than it was meant to be. So all the characters were sort of waddling around as these tiny fat people. Someone finally figured it out, and they fixed it about 20 minutes in - right after Peter Parker wakes up and discovers he’s got muscles and doesn’t need his glasses. So when I saw the movie, he *also* went from being an approximately 4-foot-tall, 300-pound guy to looking quite normal. Heh.

  10. Eric (44) said,

    October 26, 2006 at 7:15 pm

    One time I was at the La Paloma theeater in Encinitas, CA, and I was trying to watch a movie — I think it was The Rocky Horror Picture Show — and everyone kept yelling and throwing things and, at one point, even dancing in the aisles. It was so rude.

  11. grimblegromble (5) said,

    October 26, 2006 at 10:54 pm

    My worst experience involved a budget theater and the film Chicken Run. Yeah, I know, budget theaters often imply crappy viewing atmosphere. But there, the seats were horrible, the sound was horrible, and the clincher was three minutes before the film ended, (not even credits proper!) the film CUT OUT, going to the kitschy trivia question slides they show like 15 minutes before the movie. Behind that there’s the showing of Napoleon Dyanmite where I saw the boom mike in a shot, a showing of (I think) A Muppet Christmas Carol at a really old theater (where they still had CURTAINS in front of the screen) when the projectionist forgot to raise the curtain, and a showing of Pokemon: The First Movie (hey, I was young and impressionable) where the film cut out for at least 5 minutes, the house lights came on, and the film was restored WITHOUT any backtracking.

  12. Stephen (221) said,

    October 26, 2006 at 10:57 pm

    The theater saved you from having to watch 5 minutes of a Pokemon movie? Dude, they did you a favor!

  13. Darien (88) said,

    October 27, 2006 at 2:50 am

    Gotta catch ‘em all!

  14. 10Kan (7) said,

    October 27, 2006 at 10:19 am

    I was watching Star Wars: Episode One at a second-ran theater which has since closed down. There had been minor problems with the sound and the picture wasn’t very clear throughout the entire film. Right at the end, when Anakin had improbably piloted his fighter into the Droid Command Ship, he exclaimed “It’s starting to heat up!” or words to that effect, and, right after he said that, the film distorted, melted and burned.
    The projectionist got it running a few minutes later, but I was distracted, haunted by the thought of a film character somehow being aware that their world is burning up and melting.

  15. ThePhan (128) said,

    October 27, 2006 at 10:21 am

    10Kan: My goodness. Anakin can speak things into existence.

  16. Sam (405) said,

    October 27, 2006 at 11:09 am

    The force is strong with that one.

  17. Grishny (156) said,

    October 27, 2006 at 2:49 pm

    Wow. I must have led a particularly and unusually blessed life up until now, because I have NO horrible theater experiences to relate, and I’m honestly surprised at how many have been told here in such a short time. Admittedly, I don’t go to the movies very often, but nothing like these tales has ever happened to me. The worst I can come up with is having people get up to go to the bathroom during the movie and obscuring the screen briefly as they walked across my field of vision. I’ve certainly never been witness to melting film, or shouting matches, or any of the other things all you poor people have been relating.

  18. Ellmyruh (20) said,

    October 28, 2006 at 3:21 am

    This didn’t happen to me, but it was still odd: We had a very rare city-wide power outage that even made almost all stoplights go dark. Since I’m a reporter, that means we all scrambled and I ran down the street to find people. I got to the movie theater and a bunch of people were all streaming out the doors. Most of them were seeing Phantom of the Opera and were about two hours into it when they all had to leave the theater. To add to matters, the film had gotten to the point where — well, just in case you don’t know the story, I won’t spoil it — um, one of the climactic scenes. It had JUST happened, too. And who was telling me about this as I took notes? The aunt and uncle of the murder suspect in the second-biggest trial I’ve ever covered. If there weren’t already two books and a movie on the case, it would make a fun tidbit to throw in the story.

    As for bad movie experiences, I won’t get started on all the rude people. I will say this, though: I have no problem if you bring your own food to the theater, and I’ve done it. However, your food should not smell. In other words, Taco Bell is not acceptable.

  19. vballgirl (4) said,

    January 22, 2007 at 3:48 am

    My worst movie experience was the only time I went to the movies with my Grandma. What a wonderful splurge on her part. We picked a good movie (don’t remember which one now) and doubled the cost of the movie by buying popcorn. We walked into the seating area, chose our seats, and before the movie even started, I dropped the whole bucket on the floor! I was so horrified, I don’t even remember if we replaced it or not.

  20. blowtorchacurlyfry (1) said,

    February 7, 2008 at 2:46 am

    I’ve been to a movie when a thunderstorm started afterwards and the power went out. We all trudged out and just as everyone got out the power came back on, and the film resumed playing. I’ve been to several where a speaker or several blows out and during Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, it got out of focus. Another time it seemed the volume was turned down and the image became distorted. The weirdest and most annoying thing about this when it happens is that no one seems to ever care or do anything about it. They continue watching, and I’m always the one to get up and go tell the people. It’s strange that other people don’t care to watch an out of focus movie after paying 7 bucks. I don’t get it.

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