Don’t people know how to act at the cinema anymore…? This is the burning question raised by the chaotic scenes revealed at showings of Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour. Videos show people out of their seats, dancing, screaming, and using their phones, which has incited discussion about cinema etiquette, which is important to ensure that everybody is able to enjoy the experience in peace. Here, Impact’s Lexxie Fletcher-Frampton explores the unwritten (or sometimes written) rules and the various contexts in which they can be flouted.
When I first started going to the cinema as a child, I recall being given a verbal list of instructions: how to behave at the cinema. Looking back I know that these rules were given mostly to avoid being a nuisance to other people. While I am grateful for this lesson in being considerate, I can recognize that there are some different contexts that can provoke debate as to whether certain behaviours are acceptable. There may be some scenarios where these general rules may be disregarded, while overridingly the experience of other people should be respected.
The (mostly) universal dos and don’ts…
A great example of this is the “Phone switched OFF” rule, which most cinemas instruct people to do before the film is shown. Nottingham cinemas such as the Savoy Cinema even insist upon this in the Terms and Conditions on their website, stating that failure to do so can lead to being asked to leave.
using your phone throughout a showing can be disruptive not just because of calls and notifications but because of screen brightness too
Features such as the Do Not Disturb feature on iPhone have caused me to not necessarily turn my phone off the past few times I have been at the cinema. This is because turning the phone off is no longer the only way to prevent it from going off or disturbing other cinemagoers. That being said, using these kinds of features does not remove the temptation to quickly check your phone or reply to messages as these things can be silent.
Using your phone throughout a showing can be disruptive not just because of calls and notifications but because of screen brightness too- which can pull people away from the immersive experience of the cinema. Therefore turning the phone completely off is probably the best way to ensure there is no temptation.
One thing specifically criticised at The Eras Tour and even Barbie showings was people taking selfies during the movie. The flash of a phone camera can draw attention away from the film, so it’s usually best to get all your photos out of the way before the film starts- or save them for afterwards.
Another mostly irrefutable rule is talking! Being distracted by other cinemagoers’ conversations can be an aggravating disruption from the film, and can lead to unpleasant disputes which further distract from the experience.
One thing I am surprised to even mention in relation to this is heckling! I think most people would agree that heckling at the movie theatre would not be received well. Despite this, at the last Marvel film I saw, an audience member was yelling out in disagreement and interjecting with jokes non-stop throughout the entire thing. If you ever feel tempted to do this, try to save your critiques and jokes for after the film or when they later come out on streaming platforms. I find that one of the exciting things about the cinema is the debrief with your friends or family afterwards where you rattle off all the things you were thinking during the film.
Another rule outlined in cinema T&Cs is staying in your seat unless you want to go to the bathroom or the foyer. Care is suggested when getting up to go to the bathroom to avoid obscuring anyone’s view for too long.
Finally, leaving rubbish in the cupholders or on the floor should be avoided to maintain the cleanliness of the cinema. There are usually plenty of bins available as you exit.
all of these mostly boil down to respect for other people
All of these mostly boil down to respect for other people, so that’s why they are, for the most part, uncontended. Yet, (in defence of behaviour at The Eras Tour showings) it is suggested that cinema etiquette should depend on the type of film being shown, which is where the debate comes in…
Is it okay to break these rules sometimes?
I doubt many people would hold it against you if you jump or scream during a horror film showing
Much like how you have to give some allowance in kids films for shenanigans, there are some contexts where straying from sitting silently in seats is accepted. For instance, I doubt many people would hold it against you if you jump or scream during a horror film showing. That being said, it can be argued that horror is the genre where cinemagoers must behave the best (outside of screams) so as to preserve the tense atmosphere and not break focus from the immersive experience. Similarly, hearing people laugh during a comedy showing likely enhances the experience by creating a pleasant and jovial atmosphere.
A somewhat divisive genre with respect to etiquette is musicals. To sing or not to sing? Most people would probably lean on the side of just mouthing along, rather than actually singing so that other people can hear the version they came to see. A way around this is attending any sing-along viewings!
Finally, along the same vein are concert showings. AMC (an American cinema chain) released guidelines encouraging viewers of The Eras Tour to dance, sing and take selfies. This is interesting as it deviates from most of the behaviours expected at the cinema, in the spirit of concert enjoyment.
people who attend know that they are going to watch a concert and so can’t be too surprised by viewer behaviour mirroring that of one
One thing that is undeniable when watching clips of the “cinema chaos” is that it appears that most people are having a lot of fun, emulating the experience of an in-person concert. AMC does still advise being respectful to other guests while enjoying the experience. At the end of the day, people who attend know that they are going to watch a concert and so can’t be too surprised by viewer behaviour mirroring that of one, especially when endorsed by cinema companies.
Overall, the cinema is a source of entertainment and so the most important thing you should do at the cinema is have fun and enjoy the film!
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