As a film critic, I believe in the joys of viewing a movie as God intended: on a great big screen, in the dark.
But you wouldn't believe how often I'm corralled by people complaining about bad manners at the movies. The dealbreaker for most people between going out for the community experience of seeing a movie in public, and cocooning at home with Netflix, is the community itself — that is, clueless members of the audience who ruin the moviegoing experience for everyone else.
People who disturb others at the movies aren't necessarily malicious killjoys; they're mostly unaware of the difference between private and public behavior. For anyone uncertain about proper moviegoing conduct, here are a few simple guidelines. (And lest you think I'm being hyperbolic, every item that follows is behavior I have actually encountered at the movies.)
If you must talk, please whisper. This is not your living room; normal conversational volume is too loud at the movies, so please dial it down. If you miss some dialogue, you can (quietly) ask your companion to repeat it, but please don't launch into lengthy discussion of the movie (or your sister's wedding, or your dinner plans) while the movie is still going on. And please refrain from channeling Howard Cosell and providing a blow-by-blow of the action onscreen.
Make every effort to come on time, take a seat, and stay there. Would you want some stranger crawling all over you in the dark to get to their seat, especially if they arrive 20 minutes late and need another half hour to settle down? (Or commence loudly unwrapping a thousand pieces of candy and/or coughing all over you). You can avoid being the villain in this scenario by arriving on time and finding a good seat before the houselights go down. If you do come late, take off your coat, open your candy, and put your wallet away before entering the auditorium. Then stand quietly inside, at the top of the aisle, and wait for your eyes to adjust to the dark so you can see what you're doing. Once, an entire family stumbled all over my husband, Art Boy, and me in their haste to get to the empty seats next to us without realizing that the rest of the auditorium was empty.
Please do not open your cell phone. This is a biggie. If you must check your messages, surf the net, call your mom or text your girlfriend, the only time to do it is before the show starts, while the houselights are still on. Once the lights go down, there is no excuse for flipping open your phone again for any reason. Don't assume that nobody else can see it. Even a small light glows like the Aurora Borealis in a dark theater; you might as well be whipping out a light sabre. Back in my infancy as a film critic Art Boy gave me a pen with a teeny light in the nib I could click on to take notes in the dark; it produced a circle of light about the diameter of a nickel on my note pad. I used it for months until the day an irate patron sitting two rows in front of me came back in the middle of a movie to ask me to turn it off. I was too mortified to ever use it again.
While the houselights are still on is also the time to turn off your cell phone. When that card comes onscreen asking you to do so, THIS MEANS YOU! No one in the audience wants to be subjected to your tinny ringtone of the I Dream of Jeannie theme song for three minutes while you fish around in your purse for the offending device — especially when something dramatic is happening onscreen.
If your phone does go off like a cluster bomb in the middle of the movie, there is one appropriate response: hit the "off" button. Coming in a distant second is grabbing the phone, and sprinting up the aisle and out of the auditorium (which is only remotely acceptable for doctors on call or people involved in some other emergency). It is not appropriate to flip open the cover to see who's calling, thereby blinding the entire row of folks sitting behind you.
And, for the love of all things holy — do NOT take the call! Your fellow patrons did not fork over ten bucks a pop to listen to you chat.
Oh, and one more thing. Movies are not rock concerts, so probably not a good idea to hold up your glowing camera phone for five minutes at a stretch recording the film onscreen. Not only is it annoying to everybody else in the theater, and, you know, illegal, it just creates a world of bad karma. Besides, the same footage is probably already posted on You Tube.