Disruptive behaviour at the cinema: Understandable?

Recently my friend Scott started his Midweek Mumble series about cinema etiquette and noise pollution.
It’s something most of us experience and get annoyed by. Chances are that if you are reading this you are a big fan of movies. You might talk about them a lot or even blog about them. Through the years your love for the medium has grown so much that it has become an experience you cherish. Movies have become sort of a religion where you silently want to experience every second the image is projected onto that big screen. You want to see the movie the way the director intended it to. I am like that as well. If I could I would love to buy all tickets for a screening and watch it alone, but unfortunately that would make it a very expensive hobby.

Fact is though that the annoyances exist and I started wondering why people would talk during movies and/or use their cell phones. So let’s get into the minds of the ones who cause so much distraction.

Why do people go to the movies? In general it is to have a good time, but that’s a very wide definition. To me it’s getting lost in a movie. Even when I go with friends I try to
talk as little as possible not to annoy others, but I haven’t always been like that. Let’s go back into time, to a younger me when I was still a teenager at the end of the eighties/beginning of the nineties (I’m 36 now).

My own behaviour
Back then I didn’t watch as many movies as I do now. Going to the movies was a great thing to do. You didn’t have to hang around the house (or a friend’s house) where parents were around. It was a place to get away from it all, not having to walk around and be entertained for a while, sharing the experience with some friends. If the movie was boring
you’d talk to each other (ok, even if it wasn’t you still did) and yes, I must admit I also was guilty in throwing food just to cause some annoyance. I wouldn’t dare to do those things now, but back then it was fun. Was it about the movie? Well, only partly I guess. It was something to do. If you took out a girl to see a movie of course you wanted to share the experience but you’d als want to talk to her during the movie. There’s no reason for me to think that has changed for the teenagers visiting movies now.

Mobile phones
What has changed though is the connectivity. At the beginning of the nineties cellphones were not around yet and internet was just getting popular. You were not connected yet, but if the technology would have been available I’d probably use it during a movie. Why? Well, you are at age where you are finding your place and when all your friends are very active you want to be a part of that as much as possible. I see this with family gatherings, some of the teenagers think it’s perfectly acceptable to be chatting away on their Blackberry all evening, not interacting with the people around them. It’s something I’d rather see differently (if it was my child I’d say something about it), but it happens a lot.

So back to the cinema as it is not only teenagers, I’ve read enough stories about other age groups (from middle aged men to old couples) causing as many disruptions. The thing with cellphones is that there is a big group of people who feel the need to be reachable at any given moment even if that means disturbance to other. I can imagine that if you are a couple with children and have a babysitter you might have to be reachable in case something has happened.

It’s easy to label someone else as having no manners and accuse them of not thinking of others, but before aggressively attacking someone causing a distraction immediately you should take a moment to at least think what might be going on in their head. Also ask yourself if you think fighting someone over a movie is really worth it. Breathe for a moment to find a some control. Just like you I don’t like disruption, but don’t try to be like George Valentin in The Artist having a nightmare about every little sound.

As far as solutions go I think there are some chains out there that help to prevent issues. The most famous one I think is the Alamo draft house that is known for having a very strict no cellphone policy. People are aware of it and don’t cause problems because they will kick you out. If I look at one of the biggest chains in The Netherlands (Pathé), they offer a number you can send a text to (only reason you can use your phone) and they will deal with it. I never had to use it, but I assume it works. It also makes it an anonymous thing, so you don’t have to worry about the wrath of someone else. Another solution could be to have special screenings where specific things like texting are allowed. It manages expectations and prevents those not matching with reality.

As long as going to the movies is a social event (and it is) there are going to be other people that will behave in a way that can annoy or disturb others. Let’s hope though that those other people will get the point that the passion for movies can run very deep for some and that they should respect that.

26 thoughts on “Disruptive behaviour at the cinema: Understandable?

  1. Good blog. I must say nothing annoys me more than people causing disruption in the cinema, whether it be using their mobile phones, talking or just opening a bag of sweets incredibly loud. And to make it worse, everything sounds louder in the cinema because most people sit there in silence.
    I go at least once a week to the cinema with my friends and once the title card for the film starts (even through the trailers sometimes) we sit there in silence and wait until we are out of the theatre to share our thoughts on the film.
    I think that the people who disrupt the movie for everyone else are really rude to be honest. In recent years I haven’t experienced this as much so hopefully it is a problem that is on the decrease but we’ll see.

    • I agree that they are very rude and incosiderate, but like I state in the article, it’s behaviour that can be understandable. I don’t think it’ll decrease though.

  2. I think it’s a sign of the times. People’s attention spans are getting smaller and smaller. A lot of people’s needs and urges to HAVE to check their phone every 5 minutes is growing. I don’t understand why people can’t just give all their attention to a film for 2 hours without making phone calls/texts/chatting/playing games.

    Also… think it’s just a growing amount of disrespect some people have to others at the cinema. I behave and be polite because it’s how I’ve been brought up!

    God, I sound like an old foggie.

    • Yeah, I love getting away from everything for that small time period! I wonder if it’s the same at theaters, do people start texting and calling during plays?

  3. I get extremely agitated with the people who talk continuously or have their cell phones out during the movie. I actually consider my movie theater time a welcome respite from the constant connectivity of modern life; I often put my phone away or on airplane mode so that I cannot hear it buzz with incoming messages. (That said, I do sometimes take notes for reviews on my phone.)
    I guess it’s a good thing that nowadays I almost always go to the theater on my own, because whenever I take someone with me I turn into one of those annoying people who keep whispering. I just can’t help it! But there’s a difference between going to a movie and upholding a conversation or going to a movie and remarking on it from time to time.

    I have that Pathé number stored in my phone just in case. I witnessed a fist fight over taken seats once, so I don’t really tend to step in myself anymore. People can be weird.

    • Yeah, those whispers is something I recognise…it’s an urge you sometimes get, but I really try to keep it to a minimum.

      No, I wouldn’t step in either, really not worth it.

  4. I hate mobile phone too!! Once I went with my friend and she kep using it…I want to say something to her but couldn’t because she didn’t like the movie from the beginning 🙁

    The only time I used mobile in the cinema was when watching In Time and that was because no one was behind me…there were only 10 people in the cinema

  5. I agree completely with Jaina’s comment. But I also like it that you have considered what it is like to be young these days and even admitted your own past naughtiness. I admit as a teen we used to go to the cinema loads and sometimes if the film was ‘boring’, we made our own fun. I was told off by angry people lots for being an idiot. I didn’t mean to be, I was just trying to amuse myself and my friends. Sometimes that involved being an immature idiot. Which let’s face it, I was.

  6. I guess it depends what time you hit the theater. I go to a lot of matinees due to ticket costs (you have to do something to reduce the price). I guess people who go at that time aren’t as rude or maybe are just plain more respectful. haha, probably no teenagers. Cheers.

    • I usually go at the times it’s not too busy as well and in general there aren’t a lot of annoying people at the movies I watch. Reading a lot of horror stories about other experiences makes me appreciate it a lot that I don’t really encounter it much.

  7. It drives me nuts when people talk out loud or get on their phones during a movie. I just see no excuse for it unless we’re talking about a child. That being said, even my 7 and 10 years olds know not to talk during the movie. You can lean over and whisper something but don’t be rude and hurt the experience of others. Even as a kid, I knew it was disrespectful.

    I understand it’s a social event but the majority of people go to watch the movie, not listen to someone else gab. And even if I didn’t have an issue with talking during a film (which I do), I would respect the wishes of others. And if you wanna talk, go out to eat, go to a bar, or rent a movie and invite friends over.

    I just find it rude and disrespectful with the exception of kids and the other obvious rare instances. And with ticket prices as high as they are, I deserve to be able to see and hear the movie I’m paying money to enjoy.

  8. Wow, someone who is older than me (very slightly)! Sorry! I get the impression that everyone in the movie blogosphere is younger than me. Specific showings where people are allowed to text? Interesting idea. That is reminiscent of the Big Scream showings that Picturehouse cinemas do here in the UK. These are morning showings where new parents can take their babies and it doesn’t matter if they cry because everyone knows what to expect.

    People who go to the cinema and talk/text/play games are as confusing to me as that breed of people who go to music concerts and spend the entire time going to the bar and shouting to each other. Why did you pay £25 for a ticket if you’re not listening to the band?

    • I’m 36 now and I don’t really know the age of most bloggers I read 🙂

      Big scream sounds like an interesting concept. Do they also lower the volume a bit not to scare the babies too much?

      As for music concerts I really don’t get people recording the whole show and while doing so watching their little screen. Are you really experiencing the show or are you just doing this so you can brag/show other people you’ve been there. It takes so much away from the experience.

  9. I’ve never had a huge issue with people being disruptive in the cinema. The worst experience I ever had was watching The Woman in Black when a group of girls spent the whole film trying to scare each other and laughing after every “jump.” Didn’t realise how annying this would be and it really killed all the tension the film was trying to create. Still scared me half to death though!

    The only other experience I’ve had is when two girls sat behind me were loudly sobbing uncontrollably while watching Seven Pounds… that film was designed to make you cry though so I can’t really complain!

  10. My biggest pet peeve for a long time has been unruly children. That’s why, for many years, I would see only 15 and 18 certificated films in the cinema to avoid young kids. But now I’m back watching kids films again – principally because there’s so many good ones out there – and enduring kids making noise and running up and down the aisles during the film. The worst ones are those old enough to go to the cinema in large groups without their parents but not old enough, it seems, to know better.

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