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rules for the new millennium:
the movie theater


The new millennium, of course, doesn't officially begin until January 1, 2001. Which gives us plenty of time to implement my new rules. The free ride is over. 95% of you are behaving badly. It's time for everyone to be more like me. Effective January 1, 2001, you will all follow the rules according to me.

And where better to begin than:




(a) You will not wait until you are in line before deciding what movie to see. Neither will you debate which movie to see when it is your turn at the ticket counter, thus holding up everyone else behind you. You will have your game plan together by the time you leave the house.

(b) You will not further hold up everyone behind you by arguing with the ticket seller when he or she refuses to sell you a ticket for an R-rated movie without checking your photo ID. Nor will you bring a note from your mother and beseech the ticket seller to "call my mom, she says it's okay, she's home, just call her." (I actually saw this happen at AMERICAN PIE.) If you are 17 or over, bring photo ID. If you are under 17 -- if you are even an unusually mature 16-and-a-half-year-old -- you are no longer considered old enough to see R-rated movies by yourself. Deal with it, and welcome to post-Columbine America.


(a) If there are five or more of you, and you arrive late and the theater is packed, you will not expect people who are already seated to split up or move so that you can all sit together. Arrive early, or expect to sit apart.

(b) The backs of the seats in front of you are not your personal footrests, particularly when people are occupying those seats. Be advised also that when you nudge, kick, or jiggle the seat in front of you, it annoys everyone sitting in that row even if that particular seat is empty. This is not tolerable and will result in your immediate expulsion from the theater if the jostle-sensors in our specially-designed seats alert us to this violation.

(c) Since it is safe to say that nobody over, say, 21 carries laser pointers or finds it unbelievably witty to shine them at the screen, all teenagers will be asked to pass through a metal detector at the door; any laser pointers will be confiscated and returned to you after the movie. Unless, of course, the theater manager opts to destroy the laser pointers, which would be just fine with me. There are two types of people who buy laser pointers: those who buy them for legitimate business purposes, and those who buy them to be annoying at movies (or concerts). Those who buy them to be annoying will have them taken away. In fact, we are working on a law prohibiting the sale of laser pointers to anyone under the age of 21. If you are not in the business world, there is little reason for you to own one.

(Teenagers are also advised to study carefully the General Guidelines for Non-Disruptive Behavior further down this page.)



(a) Despite the MPAA loophole, children under the age of, say, 12 have no business attending an R-rated movie even when accompanied by a parent or adult guardian (you). They will not understand or appreciate the movie and may even pick up a few unsavory words, or wake you up in the middle of the night with nightmares for weeks to come. (Rough justice meted out to stupid parents.)

(b) Films for children are films for children. One expects to see small children at a screening of, say, THE IRON GIANT. Films for adults, on the other hand, are films for adults. One does not expect or want to hear shrill little voices in a theater showing THOMAS CROWN AFFAIR. Some adults who attend films meant for grown-ups may be parents themselves, and are trying to have a grown-up night to themselves, away from the unpleasantness of children. Other adults who do not have children, and do not particularly like children (such as myself), also have a right to an evening away from children.

(c) In any public place, not just at the movies, it is unseemly for children to emit the sort of piercing shriek known to unclog sinuses and restore sight to the blind. Unless the child is on fire, or his/her intestines are exposed and visible, a child really has no reason to produce such a sound, and should be strenuously discouraged from doing so, especially in the presence of adults who have had a hard day at work and just want a nice, peaceful night out at the movies or at a restaurant.

(d) Now is as good a time as any to teach your children the General Guidelines for Non-Disruptive Behavior, outlined below. Oddly, many adults commit the same moviegoing sins commonly ascribed to children, who at least have the excuse of being children.


(a) Babies do not belong in a movie theater. They belong at home with a babysitter or trusted family member. If you cannot find a sitter or trusted family member, then you will stay home with the baby. Which part of this is difficult to understand?

(b) Children under the age of four will not be allowed entry into a theater. Point blank. A three-year-old is simply too young to sustain the attention span required by the average-length feature film (90 minutes to 2 hours). I don't care if you think your kid is unusually gifted and bright. Every parent says that. I have yet to meet a parent whose toddler is not unusually gifted and bright. In fact, over the last 20 years or so, there has apparently been a spectacular rise in the number of unusually gifted and bright preschoolers. They are everywhere. I often wonder where these unusually gifted and bright toddlers go, because there hasn't been a parallel rise in unusually gifted and bright adults.



(a) You should not be talking at all during the movie (see the General Guidelines for Non-Disruptive Behavior, codified below), but you especially should not be talking in the loud monotone commonly associated with elderly people who have experienced a decrease in hearing ability.

(b) You should not be repeating every word of dialogue for the benefit of your hard-of-hearing companion. The people around you heard the dialogue just fine, and do not require the instant replay. Get a hearing aid.


(a) If you must read credits or subtitles aloud for the benefit of a less-than-sharp-eyed friend or spouse, do so quietly, so as not to disturb those around you who can actually see letters that are roughly two feet tall.


(a) If you are experiencing a mild illness of the throat-clearing or coughing variety, take plenty of lozenges or stay home. Sudden, raucous coughs or "hrrr-HMMMMMM"s are extremely challenging to your fellow moviegoers' ability to focus on a complex narrative.



(a) Conversations are permitted up until the start of the first trailer. You may talk through the lame animations telling you where the exits are, etc. You may even talk through the commercials, which are becoming increasingly common in movie theaters and generally deserve to be talked through. Once the first trailer begins, however, your mouth should close, and should not open again except to laugh at appropriate comedic moments in the film, or in the case of extreme emergencies, such as being on fire, or your intestines being exposed and visible.

(b) The less intelligent among you never seem to understand the plot of any given movie. We overhear you quite often, asking your companion what just happened, or guessing what's going to happen, or generally commenting on the movie in a witless fashion that will not endanger the memory of the late great MST3K. Such dense moviegoers will be issued complete synopses of the film, printed in glow-in-the-dark text, for easy access to such conundrums as what they're gonna do now, why the man did that, etc.

(c) Carrying on a conversation throughout a movie, in a normal speaking voice, as if you were sitting in your living room and not among dozens of other people who paid to hear the movie and not your conversation, will not be tolerated. Raising your voice to be heard above the noisier scenes in a movie is an even more serious sin. Once the movie begins, sound sensors in your seat will pick up any conversation conducted above a discreet whisper; you will be located and warned once. A second violation will result in immediate expulsion from the theater with no refund. (With comedies, the sensors will allow for hearty laughter, though unusually loud or grating laughter that sounds like a duck being sodomized with an airhorn may also result in a stern warning.)

(d) The only time talking during a movie is permitted is when the movie is so beyond redemption and terrible that no sane person could endure it without snarking off at the screen. Currently, any movie directed by Joel Schumacher or Michael Bay, or any big summer movie by Warner based on an old TV show, is eligible for sarcastic commentary. The films of Whit Stillman are also fair game for well-timed fart noises in the middle of an especially self-conscious dialogue scene, and anything written by Kevin Williamson these days is not far behind.


(a) Candy and popcorn will be served in boxes. No bags, no wrappers, nothing that crinkles. Anything remotely crinkly will be barred from theaters.

(b) Remember the metal detector teenagers have to pass through in case they have laser pointers? Well, guess what: adults will have to pass through it, too. Anyone with a cell phone will have it confiscated and returned to them after the movie. This is to prevent the fucking thing ringing in the middle of a particularly tense and quiet scene in THE SIXTH SENSE (this actually happened). We don't trust you to turn the phone off, because a lot of you fail to do so; therefore, we will simply take the phone away from you if you absolutely insist on bringing it into the theater.

(c) If you and one other person are the only people in the theater, you will refrain from striking up a conversation with that other person while waiting for the movie to start. Movies aren't social events. You will especially refrain if you are male and the other person is female, because you will create an undertone of stress for the female that will mar her enjoyment of the movie. "Is he gonna try picking me up? Or sitting next to me? God, can't I even go to a fucking movie by myself without some asshole invading my space?" And so on.

(d) If you are in love with another person, good for you, mazel tov, whatever. Just keep it to yourself. The darkness of a movie theater does not give you license to smooch, coo, exchange sweet words, fondle each other, or worse. If you feel you must engage in such nauseating behavior, get a room. Don't try to impress us all with how deeply you two are in love, because frankly, Sparky, we don't give a fuck.

(e) The Golden Rule:

The world does not revolve around you.
You are not the only one in the theater.
The theater is not your living room.
For two hours of your life, be considerate of those around you.
Sit quietly and view the film.
Which part of this is difficult to understand?

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