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10 reasons the movie-theater experience is still worth the effort

10 reasons the movie-theater experience is still worth the effort


Get Out’s box-office record is an argument for the theater industry at large

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Universal Pictures

Jordan Peele’s directorial debut Get Out passed the $150 million mark at the box office this weekend, making it the highest-grossing debut ever for a writer-director working from an original screenplay, breaking the 1999 record held by The Blair Witch Project.

This makes Get Out a unicorn. The movie-theater industry is bleeding, thanks to streaming services, rising ticket prices, and studios’ dwindling interest in original pitches. In 2015, the box-office take reached its lowest point in nearly two decades. There are obvious reasons for that besides the competition for time and eyeballs. Most of the films in wide release these days are reboots, franchise films, and Disney’s mostly regrettable live-action remakes. Theaters have been engaging in predatory pricing for “the next big theater upgrade” no one is asking for. But for Get Out, movie fans have apparently made time to visit actual theaters.

Many pieces have already been written about why Peele’s riveting, participatory horror-comedy is best experienced in a crowded movie theater, and he’s echoed the sentiment himself, explaining that it’s not available on any VOD services because “if you don't see it with the theater energy, you'll miss the full intended experience.” In the replies to that tweet, people are actually making plans to “get some friends together” to go see the film. So as movie-watchers who love the brick-and-mortar experience, we’d like to think Get Out is a sign of new life for the social space of the theater.

get out is a solid argument that a paper ticket is worth it

The reasons to see Get Out in theaters aren’t related to the new strategies cinema owners are betting on. At last week’s CinemaCon, theater owners and vendors flaunted Jack-and-Coke slushies, VR experiences, improvements to 3D — it refuses to die! — and other new gimmicks designed to get people back in the seats. They’re scrambling to create incentive for movie-lovers to go to physical theaters, seemingly unaware that the reasons already exist, and have been more or less the same for generations.

So here they are are: 10 reasons why buying a ticket is still worth it. (Other than movie-theater popcorn, which is itself a pretty good reason.)

The big screen. There’s something to be said about watching visual storytelling on a three-story screen, particularly when the film really takes advantage of the format. Just think of what it’s like to see the Millennium Falcon jump into hyperspace in The Force Awakens, or the loving long takes near bodies of water in Moonlight. It’s tempting to think that sitting in a dark theater staring at a massive white sheet won’t matter when everyone has 40-plus-inch 4K TVs, but scale has a unique ability to sweep you away. You get pulled into the sound and color in a way that you don’t feel when you’re sitting on your couch at home. There’s nothing inherently wrong with watching Star Wars on your phone, tablet, laptop, or TV. It’s just that seeing something cinematic blown up big for the eyes to feast on is still a unique, worthwhile experience. —Kwame Opam


People everywhere. Unless you're going to see Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle Part III in the middle of a snowstorm, chances are there will be other people in the theater with you. Although in other circumstances — the subway, a bathroom line — a large group of people can be a detriment to a particular experience, in the case of the movie theater, it's a net positive. A group of people laughing together simultaneously triggers a feeling that you should laugh, too; during a suspenseful moment, you can feel dozens of strangers suck in their breath together. Even if you're surrounded by the same friends who are always on your couch, by going to the theater, you're refreshing a familiar social setting. Instead of talking out loud about Matthew McConaughey's abs, you and your friends are forced to speak in wordless visuals: an eyebrow raise, a side smile, an arm grab. —Lizzie Plaugic

Focus. In your own home, there are too many things. Some of these things are your roommates or family members who talk to you out loud, and some of these things are phones, computers, pets, and the temptation to get up and recheck the fridge every 20 minutes. Even people who try their hardest to give a movie their undivided attention on a living-room screen have fallen victim to temptations like “Well, I’m just sitting here, I might as well pay the electric bill.” In the movie theater, all you have is your chair, any snacks you brought or bought, and the movie you’re there to watch. You also have an empty bladder because you thought ahead, not wanting to have to get up in the middle of the film to climb over people and cause a ruckus. —Kaitlyn Tiffany

at the movies, all you have is your chair

Relentlessness. Part of the advantage of that kind of focus is that movies that are tense, scary, or deeply emotional can cast much more of a spell over you when you don’t have the option to pause or turn away from the worst, then rewind later to catch it safely out of context. Watching Get Out at home, especially alone, it might be tempting to take breaks from time to time, to escape the oppressive emotions on the screen. In the theater, you don’t have that option — it’s going on with or without you, which makes everything more intense and insistent and demanding. You can’t get the same excitement and catharsis from an experience you completely control. In the theater, it’s out of your hands, and that loss of control is part of the emotional experience. —Tasha Robinson

A massive speaker system. Is it just me, or was there a lot of heavy breathing in Get Out? I realized this because I saw it in theaters, and if it wasn't in surround sound, it was at least a solid C-shape. Even if you've got some at-home speaker system so fancy, it makes you say things like "Just listen to those decibels!" while you're playing a Rush track, it's still not as good as the theater's. Horror movies in particular benefit from massive movie-theater sound: the jumps are jumpier, the screams more blood-curdling. But it doesn't hurt to hear a catchy pop song played loud as heck in a romantic comedy’s opening credits. And now that we've forced Ryan Gosling to start singing, it's on us to listen to his voice in the most dramatic way possible. —Lizzie Plaugic

Previews. I love a nice music video, and in particular a music video that gets me all riled up about Harry Styles’ film debut. What a nice way to start your evening — being reminded of all the movie magic still to come in your life. The previews are the perfect time to settle in, open your Red Vines, and clutch some cutie’s shoulder while you shout “Oh, I want to see that!” You can always watch trailers on YouTube, but the thrill is gone and there’s probably no nearby shoulder to clutch. —Kaitlyn Tiffany

Disruption. No, not the kind where the dude in front of you won’t stop shouting lame quips, or the couple behind you keeps explaining the movie to each other. Those disruptions are still annoying. I mean disruption in the sense the word has taken on in cultural and professional circles, where anything that shakes up the status quo gives you a chance to re-evaluate it. A problem with watching movies at home is that it makes the film-watching experience blur into the same experience as surfing cable channels, running a Netflix comedy show in the background while you do dishes, or half-assedly watching an Adventure Time marathon while stoned. Leaving your house and going to a space specifically designed for movies disrupts your mental patterns and primes you for an experience.

leaving your house resets your expectations

It resets your expectations and your emotions with a new space, and sets you up to pay attention. It makes watching a movie into an event, something a little more special than clicking on the next YouTube video or letting the automatic play-next-episode function on your streaming service kick in. Watching media can be extremely passive. Physically going to a special space makes it a more active experience. —Tasha Robinson

Alone time. Going to the movies with friends or your significant other can be a cherished pastime, especially when you’re surrounded by an excited audience. But there’s nothing quite like being in an empty theater, the air conditioning blasting away, while you’re enjoying a film free from judgment or rude voices. Not every film affords this kind of pleasure. You certainly wouldn’t watch The Rocky Horror Picture Show by yourself, because that’s a communal experience. But the ability to have something as majestic as Princess Mononoke wash over you and you alone is a powerful thrill. —Kwame Opam

32 ounces of cola in the dark. Did you know that a small beverage at AMC theaters is 32 ounces? I'm not here to monitor your Fanta intake. The important thing is, that's a lot of soda — fizzing up in a much bigger vessel than you probably have at home. And it's fountain soda, which is objectively the best kind of soda. This is all to illustrate the fact that going to the movies is an experience, and that includes everything leading up to the actual screening. You get to buy a little paper ticket (one of the last bastions of paper ticketing!), get yourself some special candy that you'd never buy at a drug store even though it's $7 more expensive at the theater, play a racing arcade game in the lobby, marvel at the ugly rug pattern, and let all that freshly popped popcorn air seep into your pores, as Mother Nature intended. —Lizzie Plaugic

the important thing: that’s a lot of soda

Bragging rights.  Tell me which one sounds better: “When I saw A New Hope at midnight at the drive-in…” vs. “When I watched A New Hope on VHS in 1982.” There’s no question, okay? That was just a rhetorical exercise. Jordan Peele has succeeded in marketing Get Out as an unmissable event, where attendance feels more like getting to go to an enviable concert or one-night-only stage performance than it does sidling into a matinee because you have nothing better to do. I saw it at a sold-out showing its opening weekend, which was fun not only because everyone was yelling and laughing, but also because not everyone in the world got to. —Kaitlyn Tiffany