Let’s All Go Insane at the Movies!


Rufus F.

Rufus is an American curmudgeon in Canada. He has a PhD in History, sings in a garage rock band, and does a bunch of other stuff.

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49 Responses

  1. Avatar North says:

    Here in Minneapolis we have the pleasure of a Keresotes high end theater. The ticket prices are noticably steeper but they have several rules that keep us coming back:

    -You can’t buy tickets for or be seated in the theater of a movie that’s already started.

    -Polite but strict policing of phone use and disruptive behavior in the theater. I’ve seen a small number of chatterboxes and phone addicts be escorted out.

    -Seating is assigned, you select it for yourself when you buy the tickets either online or at the theater (this is astonishingly useful for ensuring spacing and eliminating arguements over seating).

    The theater is also new and really nicely designed and the films have never had technical difficulties in my time there. The snack bar also offers (overpriced for sure) a wide and interesting seelction of food options above and beyond popcorn and chips. It’s overpriced of course, the business model for the theater is fundamentally the same as for a multiplex afterall.

    I’ve observed since I first started going there that the crowds have been steadily and reliably increasing in size and attendance. My own clique declared after several visits that it was the land of milk and honey for film viewing experience and swore off other theaters. If theaters are to survive I suspect that in dense population areas where a theater can select for the consciencious viewing subset that this is one of the futures of public theaters.Report

    • Avatar Rufus F. says:

      I’ve a good friend who runs the best video store in our city. He’s insanely knowledgeable and sells all sorts of other items along with DVDs. He’s talked for a while about his dream of opening a great movie theatre here and his attempts to do so. According to him, the real puzzler was how to do so given the steep exhibition fees for movies. He claims to do it, you’d have to show plenty of movies like Twilight of the Sparkly Vampires to make ends meet. It’s also why the concessions cost so much- that’s where the theatres actually make their money. Now, given the problems the movie industry is experiencing (and how much easier it is to deliver movies to theatres now that they’re sent via satellite), one might think they’d lower the fees, but I don’t entirely understand the economics of the situation.

      In general, I agree with you though- the survivors in the digital economy are going to be outlets that offer their customers something of value, which the octoplexes don’t seem to be able to manage on a consistent basis.Report

      • Avatar David Ryan says:

        Dave, one of the fellows who’s helping me build my boat, has been in the movie house business for years.

        We’re both small businessmen, and so we talk a lot about business, his, mine, and in general, and never once have I heard him complain about exhibition fees. Never once.

        I’d be interested to hear the specifics of your friend’s complaint.Report

        • Avatar Rufus F. says:

          Really? It could be Canada too- it seems like Alliance Atlantic controls an absurd chunk of movie distribution here. But his complaint was that the cost to show a movie for a week was high enough that he couldn’t justify showing the movies that he wanted to, which were more independent and foreign films, and run the risk of taking a bath. I believe the specifics were roughly a thousand a film for one week, but I’ll ask Jeremiah next time I see him. Hamilton is also a very blue collar town and just barely considered a city, so it might have to do with audiences. We’ve had a bunch of smaller movie houses go under here. If you could ask Dave, I’d be curious what the fees average in the US, and I’ll ask Jeremiah what sort of fees he was quoted here.Report

          • Avatar Rufus F. says:

            Actually, I’m fairly certain it’s done as a percentage of the take in the US- so the studio gets, say, 75% the first week and %35 the second week and so on. I’m pretty sure he was quoted a flat rate, which is definitely different. I’d be interested in hearing more about the economics of the movie house business though, since I’ve had the same fantasies about running one myself.Report

          • Avatar David Ryan says:

            The distinction may be this:

            Most (all?) first-run movies work on a split, near 50/50 between distributor and exhibitor (except as noted in an earlier comment thread, if the film is very popular, in which case a very progressive split in favor of the distributor attaches)

            Most (all?) second-run movies work on a fee-per-screening basis. (IIRC, Rocky Horror still commands a high fee.

            The reason second run movies run on a per-fee is because the studio/distributor is no longer promoting the film; whether or not the screenings are well attended depends entirely on the movie house’s efforts.

            The fee is set at a level that is profitable for the distributor/rights-holder; and anything less is regarded as being diluting to the film’s value, as would a 50/50 split on a poorly attended showing.

            From the distributor/right-holder’s POV, it’s not that they’re charging too much, it’s that your friend isn’t good enough at getting people to buy tickets to the movies he wants to exhibit.Report

      • Avatar Tod Kelly says:

        There are two theaters we enjoy going to these days.  The fist is actually expensive, but is connected to a high-end bar and restaurant.  It only shows indie films.  You sin in amazing comfortable couches and chairs, and get to eat sushi and drink martinis that are served to you.

        The other place is an old theatre that has had a funky renovation by a popular Portland brewpub chain called McMennimans.  They show only movies that have been out for quite a while, but admission is $1, and they serve inexpensive burgers, pizzas and beer.

        Each of these theaters seems to focus on the experience, and not the movie itself.  WHich means that for most big blockbusters these days, I just wait for them to be released to dvd and watch them at home.Report

  2. Nob Akimoto Nob Akimoto says:

    There are a lot of theaters in Austin that seem to do things right. From the (somewhat overrated but still awesome despite their high price) Alamo Drafthouse, where you basically get table service within the theater and where cell phone use is prohibited entirely (in fact you get kicked out for using your phone during a show at all) to the Violet Crown which is a more posh upscale indie movie viewing in assigned, plush seats.

    I think the big chain theaters are doomed (and rightfully) if they keep up the dumb industrial sized bullshit and pricing, but hopefully the smaller, local theaters become revitalized as a result.Report

    • Avatar Rufus F. says:

      E.D. highlighted this video, which has been making its way around the internet and made me really want to see a movie at the Alamo Drafthouse someday.Report

      • Avatar Tod Kelly says:

        This was AMAZING.  I would pay extra to go to a theatre that showed this before movies.Report

        • Nob Akimoto Nob Akimoto says:

          Check out the rest of the “Don’t Talk” series. They show a different one each time. Also their cult movie nights are free entrance usually (or a very cheap reservation) and I guess they make back all their money on all the beer and food you buy when you’re there….Report

      • Nob Akimoto Nob Akimoto says:

        The Drafthouse is great, especially when they do their special events. If my income were less limited, I’d probably go at least once a week.Report

      • Avatar DensityDuck says:

        Cute idea:  Hire an actress to pretend to make a huge scene and “get thrown out” during a busy time when plenty of people with cell phones are on hand.  Everyone says “oh wow, these guys are serious about their no-phones policy!  I’ll go THERE to see the movies!”Report

  3. Avatar wardsmith says:

    I’ve mostly given up on theaters, although we spent this Christmas with the sons in Seattle and watched Mission Impossible IV. Theater was downtown and the last scene was pretty funny because we’d just come from there (hope this isn’t a giveaway, after globe-trotting around the world, for reasons unknown the last scene is in Seattle – maybe they’d blown the budget?)

    On escorting out cell phone texters  – meh. On the funny scale nothing beats going to that certain brewpub in Denver with gussied up guests and watch them get their ties cut off. Suckered a team of lawyers from my favorite law firm domain name: mofo.com to meet us there for lunch. Still remember one of them crying, “But… but this tie cost $400 bucks!”



    • Avatar Rufus F. says:

      For some reason, they shoot a lot of zombie movies in Toronto (I realize that’s a set up to an obvious punchline, but I’ll pass over it in silence), and we had the weird experience of watching one of them in a Toronto movie theater during a holiday weekend in which we stumbled out of a movie of these streets filled with zombies to the same streets filled with holiday shoppers. It was both uncanny and sort of great.Report

  4. Avatar Scott says:

    I don’t go b/c tickets cost way too much and everything now is a re-make or a sequel. So Hollywierd can go fish itself.Report

    • Avatar Rufus F. says:

      I know a lot of people who feel the same way. This holiday was the first time we’d tried going to a movie in the theatre in about a year and a half.Report

      • Avatar Scott says:


        That last movie I went to was the last Transformers just to see what the 3D hoopla was about.  It was okay but was not worth the substantial increase in the ticket price.  It was amusing b/c you could tell that some scenes in the film were only shot that way in order to make use of the 3D effects. It now seems that many movies will be in 3D in order to try and get folks back into the theatre. Why go for well written scripts and good acting when you can substitute special effects? Given the ticket prices, it won’t be long before the 3D wow wears off.Report

        • Avatar Rufus F. says:

          I think the 3-D thing is wearing off already. We went to see a 3-D movie this year and, honestly, I couldn’t tell it was in 3-D except for a few shots that were really glaring and gratuitous. And I was thinking about what you said- how much did they spend for the effects and how much did they spend for the script that didn’t make any sense?Report

          • Avatar Tod Kelly says:

            I heard a guy in Fresh Air last week explaining that lost no movies that are released in 3D are shot in 3D, so you don’t actually get the effect.  From what he says, there are only 2 or 3 that were really shot for it, and the difference is striking (and headache-inducing).

            I have yet to see anything in 3D.  And no real desire.Report

    • Avatar Tod Kelly says:

      Someday someone here will write something that will make Scott smile and say something happy.Report

      • Avatar wardsmith says:

        Dude, I tried. Even had a lawyer losing a $400 tie. 🙂Report

        • Avatar James Hanley says:

          And it was even a MoFo lawyer!

          When I was a bike messenger, they were one of our clients; I used to be in and out of their offices several times a day.  I’d have loved to cut off one of their ties, but not noticeably more so than the ties of any other firms’ lawyer drones.Report

        • Avatar Scott says:


          It did make me wonder if the MoFoers were from the Denver office, if so they got what they deserved.  I don’t have sympathy for fellow attorneys. Actually, what made me chuckle was the thought of whomever that decided that Mofo.com was a good domain name for the firm given that it sounds like shorthand for the profanity.Report

          • Avatar James Hanley says:

            the thought of whomever that decided that Mofo.com was a good domain name for the firm given that it sounds like shorthand for the profanity.

            Trust me, they know this.  It’s been their nickname for decades, and they enjoy the implication of the profanity.Report

  5. Avatar E.D. Kain says:

    Okay, your opening line wins the internet…Report

  6. I see several folks have mentioned the awesomeness of drafthouse experiences.  I fully concur with those folks.  My personal drafthouse of choice, when I lived there, was the Arlington Cinema & Drafthouse just outside of Washington, DC.  It was pretty much the same as any other drafthouse I think – second run (but still popular) movies, usually just a few weeks removed from the big chain theaters, beer/booze, and an extensive menu of passable food options.  By the time we moved back to NJ, we pretty much exclusively went to the Drafthouse if we wanted to see a movie.

    For the next 5 years, I think we may have seen one movie in a theater.  It was just too much of a hassle for all of the reasons in your post.

    But then about a year ago, AMC, at least around me, seems to have caught on to the brew pub/drafthouse advantages.  They got a liquor license and converted their multiplex in the local mall into a brew pub/drafthouse setup.  There are the same number of theaters as there used to be (I think), but the seats are huge, comfortable, and have tremendous amounts of leg room.  You can buy your tickets online and choose your seat in advance.  Even if you buy your tickets at the theater, you’re still required to reserve your seats at the time of purchase, so there’s never any problem finding a seat.

    The food is passable, and the menu reasonably extensive, though not overwhelmingly so.  The quality of the food is about equal to a TGI Friday’s – nothing to write home about, but at least edible. The beer selection is actually pretty decent.

    The result is that all or most of the problems in your post disappear (except for the quality of the movie). For us, as parents, being able to get a meal while watching the movie eliminates the dilemma of “dinner and a movie” requiring more time than we’re ordinarily able to hire a babysitter for.  It also means that if we take our daughter to the movies, there will be no shortage of things for her to eat to keep her occupied, while the extra space in the seats means she has plenty of room to fidget when she inevitably gets restless.   When we went to see the Muppets, the place was filled with 3, 4, 5, and 6 year old kids, yet I can’t think of a single kid being disruptive.

    The ticket prices themselves are fairly expensive, but not more than a $1.50 or so more than they used to be, and the food/drink prices are actually in line with most of the chain restaurants.

    We’ve seen four movies in the last year in the theater as a result.  That is more first-run movies in a theater than we had seen together for the previous 8-9 years combined.

    Obviously, the new setup means a lot fewer seats to fill, but they make up for this on the captive audience for food and drink.  I suspect that the reduced number of seats, combined with the better experience, also largely results in audiences being more willing to wait a few days to see the movie, which means that attendance numbers are more stable from day to day, making staffing requirements a bit more predictable.  It seems to me that in the traditional model, the theater gets a mad rush on opening weekends, with plenty of sell outs, but then the midweek showings and subsequent weekend showings wind up with 50-90% of the seats left vacant.  That’s a lot of wasted overhead.Report

    • Avatar Rufus F. says:

      Yes! Believe it or not, I used to live in Arlington for about five years, so I’ve been there a bunch of times and it was great. I think places like that are in no danger of going under, frankly. Actually, we’ve been going the other way and making agreements with filmmakers to show their (very, very independent) movies at our favorite local bar. It’s very enjoyable. I just wish they made more popcorn movies for adults. I was watching Serpico the other night and thought, man, if they made movies like this on a regular basis these days, we’d go every week.Report

  7. Avatar Tod Kelly says:

    Rufus: This is funny.  Another blog linked to this post, and their conclusion after reading it is that you know deep down inside that the reason you don’t enjoy the movies is black people, but are afraid to admit it.

    Rufus, why can’t you just admit that black people are ruining everything?  Why do you hate America?Report

    • Avatar Rufus F. says:

      I don’t live in America and there aren’t any black people in Canada. Everybody knows that. They came up on the underground railroad, decided it was too goddamn cold, and turned around.Report

      • Avatar Tom Van Dyke says:

        Canadian racism.  You bastards.  At least the US has a black president.

        [The comments are great, too.]Report

        • Avatar Rufus F. says:

          Fine. However, there are black people in Canada, and from what I hear both of them are treated fairly well.Report

          • Avatar Tom Van Dyke says:

            One of them [Alex] seems to be in the comments section, and he’s not too happy with you.Report

            • Avatar Rufus F. says:

              Yeah, well one out of two- can’t make everyone happy. Seriously, Tom, I know that Canada has race issues. But what does this have to do with the original gripe from Five Feet of Stupid that I’m too much of a liberal to admit that going to the movies really sucks because black people are there, or whatever? Because, trust me Tom, if you live in rural Ontario like I do, the moviegoing habits of blacks aren’t exactly going to high be on your radar. So I’m trying to understand what aspect of black culture I’d be more aware of and annoyed with if I was less blinded by political correctness, or whatever.

              Seriously though, brother Tom, I know you’re a conservative, and I do see that the comment thread you linked to is pretty amazing- but maybe do you think this particular critique of liberalism (liberals lie about how annoying blacks are in the movies!!!) is one that you might want to leave alone? Because, honestly, I didn’t respond to it before Tod brought it up because I’m still not sure that it really deserves a response from the adult table. It’s a bit like the crazy person on the airplane that everyone tries to ignore so as not to upset him. Let’s move along.Report

              • Avatar Tod Kelly says:

                I am nothing but trouble.Report

              • Avatar Kim says:

                Liberals don’t lie about how annoying blacks are at the movies.

                Field Negro’s written about it at least once, and he’s about as liberal as they come.

                Liberals DO let people police their own, because it’s the easiest way to stay out of trouble, and to Actually Get The Message Across (ain’t nobody more closeminded than someone with their back up)Report

    • Nob Akimoto Nob Akimoto says:

      That can’t be real, can it? I mean…the whole site is a parody…right? Please God let it be a parody.Report

  8. Avatar Jesse Ewiak says:

    Maybe I’ve just had good luck, but I’ve been to literally hundreds of movies in my lifetime and have never had the experience at the movies always complain about. I might see the flash of a cell phone for a second in the background or scattered chatter for a moment at certain times, but never the continued insanity people always talk about.

    So, either I just block it out, have extremely good luck, or other people complain too much about it. 🙂Report