I’ve seen Black Panther four times. I haven’t been able to fully enjoy the experience during any of those four screenings. People on their phones, talking loudly amongst themselves, moving around… It seems as if we’ve forgotten what it means to go to the theater. It’s different than watching a movie at home. You’re not the only one watching, and everybody around you paid the same ridiculous amount of money that you did to be there. In the spirit of keeping the theater the sacred yet expensive place it is, I present to you a primer on theater etiquette.

1) Stay off of your phone.

I get it. Facebook, Twitter, email, a new video from your favorite YouTuber, a text from your mom. Your phone is possibly the most important tech in your life. You can keep the whole world in the palm of your hand. Whoa.

I also understand FOMO, the fear of missing out. You need to know that your friends aren’t having too much fun without you. If they are having fun without you, you need to know exactly how much. It’s a big deal.

You look perfect today, so it’s time for a selfie. Your Insta is blowing up because everybody loves your selfie. Susie is doing a live Tweet play by play of Bobby’s date with Libby and it’s going horrifically and it’s hilarious…

No. Please, just no. Those little tiny screens put off a stupid amount of light and attract the attention of every person around you. It ruins the movie for them. Movie tickets are $10-20 at least, depending where you live and when you go, and that’s a lot of money. Going to the movies is a reward to a lot of people for a good week at work or school or just to take a break from real life. If you really need to check your phone that badly, go out into the hall or lobby.

Every theater I’ve ever been in asks you to turn off your phone during the movie. I usually leave mine on. On silent, in my pocket, until the movie is over. If you can’t take a two hour break from your phone, you might wanna save your money and see the movie on DVD at home.

2) Please don’t talk.

You don’t understand the plot. Holy crap, you can’t believe that just happened. Your friend’s mom is coming to pick everybody up and the movie isn’t over for another half hour. Hehe remember that one time when…

Humans are social animals. We like to talk. A lot. And that’s fine. Express yourself. Just not during a movie, please. I’m not talking about leaning over to your buddy and whispering something. I do that, too. But if I’m sitting six seats away and I can hear the exact words you’re saying over the sound of the theater speakers, you’re too loud. Before the movie, go crazy. During the credits, as long as no one on screen is talking during them, that’s fine. But when a story is unfolding on the screen, the lights are off, and people are watching, keep it down. Make sure your plans are locked down before the movie starts, make any phone calls or anything before you sit down, and if you need to talk, again, take it to the lobby.

3) Don’t play with the recliner buttons, and please sit still.

This doesn’t apply to every theater. Many theaters still don’t have reclining seats yet. But if yours does, and you want your feet up, please get comfortable before the movie starts. The recliner motors can be distracting if they’re vibrating people’s arms, and watching a movie becomes difficult when people keep moving their chairs.

You may get uncomfortable during the show. You might need to wiggle, you might need the bathroom. That’s fine. But for as long as you’re comfortable, please sit still. Again, moving around can be really distracting to the people around you.

4) Keep your shoes on.

Unless the theater you’re in happens to be a drive-in, you’re in an enclosed building, in public. Do not remove your shoes. I’m sure you’ve seen a “no shirt, no shoes, no service” sign. They have those for a reason. Plus, nobody wants to smell your feet. I hate shoes, too. But if you can’t keep your shoes on in a theater, keep your feet at home.

5) Explain theater etiquette to your kids, and keep an eye on them.

They make all kinds of movies for kids, and cool parents take their kids to those movies whenever they can afford it. Going to the movies with my folks was the best thing ever. I believe that kids have every right to be in the theater, too. But unless your child is too young to understand simple commands like “please sit still” or “shhhh”, there’s no reason why they can’t behave properly.

Make sure they know that there will be other people, and they have to mellow out for awhile. I know that kids need to move. As the aunt of three boys under six, I’ve seen the pure kinetic potential of small children. If they have to get up and move, please take them to the lobby. You’d remove a crying baby from a theater; a child who won’t stop talking or wiggling is just as disruptive.

And as an aside, more memory than instruction, if there are two adults in your viewing group, I suggest keeping the kids between them. That way, there’s a grown-up nearby if they need a potty break, or if someone needs to stretch their legs to let out some of that energy, they’re close to someone who can take them outside. There’s also a safety factor; your child isn’t next to a total stranger. Obviously, if there’s only one adult, that doesn’t work, but I know my parents put my sister and me between them when we went out, and it seems like there were very few issues.

Kids are unpredictable. Emergencies arise. Sometimes you’re just having a bad day. I really do understand. You shelled out your hard earned money to see this film, and you have the right to get comfortable. I agree completely. But the other people in the room have done the same thing, and they have the same right to enjoyment and comfort that you do. If everybody can just remember these simple rules of etiquette, we can all have a good time. See you at the theater!

Take care,
<3 elegy